For this exhibition of modern Makonde sculpture, fifty original works, skillfully created in ebony, have been selected from the large private collection of Izaak and Pera Wirszup, a professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago. The Wirszups have travelled extensively in Africa, remaining, at times, for periods of several months. Some of the same sculpture seen here will be loaned to Syracuse University for a more extensive Makonde exhibiton in Syracuse House, New York City, later this year.
Relatively little is known in this country about the Makonde, who are Bantu Africans, a distinct people, some of whom survived in northeastern Mozambique virtually untouched by outside powers until well into the twentieth century. Although African woodcarvers, including some Makonde, have succumbed to mass production for world export, the modern Makonde sculptors who have produced the pieces in the exhibition since World War II maintain independence, originality and fertile imagination infused with interpretation of tribal lore.
Their figures and abstracts, ranging in height from six inches to three feet, reveal the young artists' distinction, the freedom with which they invent new forms that translate vital aspects of their heritage into an original contemporary idiom. Few if any of the pieces are signed, the sculptors remaining unidentified.
This text was originally published in the exhibition press release.