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The Exodus Project Group

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Marc Aldrich
Marc Aldrich

Bound By Honor Image


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This past summer, I interned in the Chandra Education and Public Outreach department at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), where I spent several months sleuthing around the Chandra data archives as part of an on-going Astronomy Visualization Metadata (AVM) tagging project AVM is data embedded into each image of astronomical objects that includes information such as the objects coordinates, the instrument and instrument settings used for capturing the image, and a description of the image. The goal of the project is to tag all the press release images from the Chandra X-ray telescope with metadata.


Summer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, MA, is a perfect time for picking up projects that have been sitting on the back burner for a while. As activities slow down a bit, it's great to dig deeper into the Chandra data archive looking for a hidden gem; and when sifting through over 8 terabytes of data comprising more than 10,000 observations from one of NASA's "Great Observatories," you're bound to unearth more than a few.


Among the exhibition's highlights will be the Primordial Couple, a freestanding wood sculpture of a seated male and female couple created by a Dogon master. Dating to asearly as the 16th century, this masterpiece is one of the most beloved icons in theMetropolitan's African collection. Given the work's scale and complexity, scholarshave suggested that it was created to honor a Dogon elder. The figures are eloquently unified by the male figure's gesture, reaching his right arm around his partner's neck and resting his hand on her breast. This seminal work gives expression to the idea of man and woman as an elemental unit of life, and serves as a bridge between the Museum's permanent collection and the works on loan for this special exhibition.


In numerous African traditions, couples imagery represents an ideal of culturalrefinement and elegance that is designed to enhance the prestige of distinguished patrons. Such representations serve as metaphors of abundance or divinely sanctioned power for elites ranging from wealthy and influential individuals to spiritual intermediaries and leaders from many distinct societies. Among the works that will be on view is an exceptionally refined pair of figurative ivory finials commissioned by a Lagoons leader for display as emblems of status at public gatherings. These highly detailed miniature sculptures depict a regal couple seated on throne-like chairs, the female draped with gold bead necklaces and holding a parasol over her consort, who clasps a staff of leadership in his hands. In contrast, the brilliantly chromatic beaded throne of a Bansoa king from the Cameroon Grassfields region features a monumental royal couple positioned at the back edge of the circular seat. Both ivory and beadwork were luxury materials, the prerogative of ruling elites in these respective centers. The Cameroon throne will be contrasted with a series of seats of office commissioned by leaders in a number of different central African societies that similarly emphasize couples imagery.


The couples imagery articulated in many of the works on view may represent prayers and invocations for both the generation of new life as well as hopes for the continuity of life in an ancestral realm. This is vividly underscored by couples created by Malagasy sculptors as funerary monuments. Such works were consecrated in rituals that at once incorporated the deceased into the ancestral community and assured the flow of their vitality to the living. Two exceptional landmarks of Malagasy art are represented in the exhibition. One, the ethereal creation of a Vezo master renowned as "the dancing couple," is unique in African art history for the degree to which it po




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