African Blacksmiths Forge Iron into Works of Art

HUMANITIES, Spring 2019, Volume 40, Number 2

Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths,” which opened last year at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, moves to the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., in April. In November, it travels to the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris.

The show features 225 objects from 19 countries and gives a stunning overview of how forged iron has been used in Africa during the past 2,500 years for currency, armament, religious ceremonies, demonstrations of power, and displays of artistry.

Lead curator Tom Joyce chose the objects from over 7,000 that he’s seen in the past fifteen years. The ceremonial axe is dated from the first half of the twentieth century and is from the Chokwe/Lunda people, now of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The unknown artist must have been a master of iron and woodworking skills in order to chisel, inlay, punch, engrave, stamp, and emboss this intricate piece that was never intended to be used, only to be displayed.