I learned that minkisi often contained elements such as pottery shards, broken mirrors, rocks, beads, and other trinkets. Several of these bundles were found concealed in or near Southeast American plantation houses.
The third section is my favorite, because it has a much larger breadth of artifacts on display.
It focuses on the flourishing of Kongo trade items and other crafts with the decline of the slave trade in the 1800s. Craftsmen became busy creating items to trade with Europe as well as making much demanded symbols of power and wealth for tribal leaders.
Such symbols include nkisi power figures, which were elaborately carved fierce human figures that were believed to track down anyone who might break a trade agreement or steal from the nkisi’s owner.
They accomplished their function of being incredibly frightening quite well. I’m not superstitious, but I was certainly glad to have a pane of glass between me and these figures.
Religious ritual still maintained a great deal of importance in Kongo culture, as seen by the detailed carved masks for religious leaders and instruments.
The simple white walls of this part of the exhibit made the incredible detail of every figure, cloth, and instrument really stand out.
I found myself crouching down beside the displays to look closer at the objects, mesmerized by the level of detail the craftsmen put into their works.
I also found the placement of the fourth section is interesting, because as you walk through the first three sections, you walk in a straight line.
As you walk, you are surrounded by the numerous African pieces, observing their intricate patterns and becoming used to the look of Kongo crafts.
To enter the fourth section, which focuses on the presence of Kongo culture in modern African-American culture in the modern U.S. and Caribbean, you make a left turn, which puts the rest of the exhibit just out of view.
Then suddenly, you are surrounded by items that were recognizable before entering the exhibit, such as woven sweet grass baskets, yard decorations, and stylized grave markers.
However, all of these items take on new meaning because you recognize the similarities to the other objects in the first parts of Kongo Across the Waters.
This section uses videos and displays to show how so many facets of life in America are derived from West Africa, iincluding the “step” style dance popular with fraternities and sororities to styles of decoration.
I found this section particularly interesting because I am currently interning at the Atlanta History Center, which has displays and events related to slave culture in the earlier days of the United States, so I was interested to learn more about how that culture developed in more modern days.
The last section is the smallest. It shows several examples of work by modern artists who have been influenced by Kongo tradition.
The vivid and complex designs of the large scale paintings and multimedia works show the continued effects of Kongo culture.
I was surprised to learn that the artists do not come exclusively from western African backgrounds, so the fact that all were inspired by Kongo art shows the pervasiveness of Kongo culture in the modern West.
I would definitely recommend that anyone go see this exhibit, not only to learn about the fascinating history of the Kongo, but about how it has shaped American history and culture in innumerable ways.
The exhibit is designed in such a way that it makes African culture and artifacts accessible and understandable to everyone, even those who, like me, lack a high degree of familiarity with African culture.
Visiting Kongo Across the Waters gave me a much deeper appreciation for Kongo culture and its effect on American culture and inspired me to learn more about Kongo and other African regions, as well as their effects on the world.
Anna Democko was born in Atlanta and has lived here her entire life. She attended several schools in the Atlanta area, including St. Pius X Catholic High School, and is currently a sophomore at Georgia College and State University pursuing a degree in history with a concentration in public history and a minor in museum studies.
She enjoys museum studies because they incorporate the study of history, art, and how to share the highlights of human accomplishment with others. She hopes to graduate in the spring of 2016 and work in the museum field.
Anna is currently interning at the Atlanta History Center as the public programs intern. She enjoys learning about how history museums operate and being involved in planning and executing the museums different events. She is also working with Global Atlanta by visiting Southeast United States museums and writing commentaries of the different exhibits.