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MINKISI - 100 powerful objects from 10 African countries

MINKISI - 100 powerful objects from 10 African countries to show in Masterton

Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, in Masterton, will be offering a chance of a lifetime, bringing a rare collection of nearly 100 works of African art to the public, for three months, from August 25th through to November 25th. Open daily. Free admission.

Minkisi – Art and Belief in West and Central Africa is a dramatic exhibition about West and Central Africa, delivering a message about cultures, traditions, histories and beliefs. The exhibition offers an opportunity to learn, admire and think about the place of Africa in the world, and contrast it to the place of Aotearoa in the world.

The exhibition Minkisi takes visitors on a visual and emotional journey to faraway cultures. The 100 masks, figures, statues, instruments, reliquaries are from 33 tribal groups in 10 countries: Ivory Coast, Benin, Nigeria and Burkina Faso in the west, through Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, to the Congo coast and basin: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Congo – ‘Minkisi’ is a word that refers generically to statues from the latter region. In human or animal form, Minkisi contain a spirit that works for the good of an individual or group – to bring good health, a good harvest, to increase fertility, to protect against theft, to act as a shield against witchcraft, or to prevent misfortune.

Minkisi are often adorned with feathers, padlocks, nails, rope, chains, bones, animal skin and skulls, or hair, each with a symbolic meaning. Colour also has specific relevance: red suggests violence and magic, white connotes death, and black is the colour of life.

The amazing exhibition is created from a collection ‘owned’ by Whanganui-born and -based illustrator and art collector Desmond Bovey, who moved to France in the 1980s and visited Africa often. His interest in African art began when he inherited 26 statues and masks that had been gathering dust in a Burgundy attic and would become the nucleus of his collection. Desmond Bovey sees himself as the guardian of the spiritual items, not the owner. “When I acquired these objects, they began to speak to me,” says Bovey. “I became obsessed about what had shaped them, not only the aesthetic codes, but the beliefs. I decided that, instead of travelling from country to country, I’d select one small part of Africa and keep going back, digging in, travelling deeper. Africans are slow to trust Europeans. You can’t blame them for that. I found a group of friends I could count on. In Africa you just have to put yourself in the hands of locals. Otherwise, nothing works, no doors open. I chose the region of central-west Africa because it is French speaking, but also because it’s such a patchwork of cultures. And there is jungle.

“As soon as I stepped into the African forest I felt alive in a special way. Alert. All the skills of my youth, developed while hunting in the New Zealand bush, suddenly came back,” Bovey continues.Here, one might step on a bush viper, or brush against a green mamba, or stumble over armies of ants. There was even the slight possibility of meeting a panther. Most of all, there was a spiritual dimension that I could not understand, nor even really believe in. It revived some long-dormant senses and made my skin prickle as I walked with my African companions and listened to their incredible stories.”

Alongside the exhibition, Aratoi offers a 90-minute educational programme for schools and centres, offered free-of-charge, thanks to the sponsorship of Masterton Trust Lands Trust and the T G Macarthy Trust. For more information, visit the Education page of

Special group tours of this amazing show can be arranged, led by Desmond Bovey. A small charge per person, 15 people minimum. Please contact Aratoi Director Susanna Shadbolt (

Aratoi Director Susanna Shadbolt is pleased to present this opportunity. “This exhibition features an amazing array of intriguing art from a part of the world that many of us know little about. There is so much to experience, and Aratoi welcomes everyone in the Wairarapa to step inside and enjoy the journey to Africa.”

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