<p>Georgia College student Anna Democko stops at one of the mask displays at the Kongo Across the Waters Exhibit at the Jimmy Carter President Library and Museum. The exhibit from the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, will be in Atlana until Sept. 21.</p>

Georgia College student Anna Democko stops at one of the mask displays at the Kongo Across the Waters Exhibit at the Jimmy Carter President Library and Museum. The exhibit from the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, will be in Atlana until Sept. 21.

<p>The Kongo Across the Waters exhibit has more than 160 objects from the Royal Museum of the Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, including a display of musical insttruments.</p> <p>Anna Democko has a look at nkisi Mangaaka, a power figure who is wearing the headdress of a chief.</p>

I first visited the Kongo Across the Waters exhibit currently at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum on a drizzly and humid day in June at about 11 am. The mist was starting to turn to rain, so I hurried through the permanent collection and into the temporary exhibition space entrance, hoping to head home before a downpour.

The exhibition's decor of warm reds and oranges that evoked the dry heat of Western Central Africa immediately made me forget about the weather outside as I began to focus on the traveling exhibit comprised of more than 160 pieces, most from the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium

The exhibit is in Atlanta as part of Africa Atlanta 2014, a yearlong initiative to reinvent economic and cultural bonds between Africa, the Americas, and Europe. I knew about Africa Atlanta 2014, and I love museums and I wanted to know more about Africa, so I decided to investigate.

I was not quite sure what to expect from Kongo Across the Waters, as all I really knew about the Kongo was that there had been mention of it in my high school world history class.

Thankfully, the exhibit did a fantastic job of setting me at ease at once. I was greeted by the first of many informational panels that briefly introduced the Kongo and its history, from forming a sophisticated and powerful kingdom in the 16th century south of the Congo River, to its first trade interactions with the Portuguese, who landed on the coast of Kongo in 1483.

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.

The first section of the exhibit deals with this early history, showing the textiles and other goods created in Kongo before interaction with Europe, and how the commercial relationship affected both Kongo and European products.

I found it fascinating to learn how craftsmen both in Europe and Kongo began imitating the other cultures crafts and enjoyed seeing the unique fusions of traditional Kongo arts, which emphasize earthy and elaborate designs with the art of Europe.

Before seeing the exhibit, I had not known that people in Kongo were converted to Christianity as early as the 15th century, so I was surprised to learn that this conversion was one of the first major effects of the Kongo-European cultural trade relationship in 1491.

Once I reached the part of the exhibit showing art created in Kongo after the conversion, I saw that the art created definitely reflects that. Christian ideas and symbolism apparently blended well with traditional Kongo beliefs, explaining its rapid and wide acceptance in Kongo.

My favorite example of this is that the cross shape in Kongo symbolizes a crossroads where the world of the living and of the dead intersect—in a sense, life after death, which meshes well with the Christian symbolism of the cross.

Many pieces of art showed non-traditional uses of such Christian symbols, including crucifixes with female forms on them, and Kongo pottery decorated with crosses.

The first section made me feel like I had at least begun to understand Kongo culture.

The second section explores the Kongo presence in North America. The people of this region made up the majority of slaves present in the West, a not-so-fun-fact I did not know before seeing the exhibit. Needless to say, the traditions they brought with them greatly influenced American slave culture.

Many archeological artifacts on display show the continuation of Kongo rituals in the United States.

One of the most prominent rituals was the burying of minkisi, traditional Kongo objects believed to attract and hold spirits which could be used for protection or for harming enemies.

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