“In and Out of Africa“
On display until Sunday
Pence Gallery, 212 D St.
There is a story behind every trinket, figurine or article of clothing that we own. Even the most basic, everyday objects hold a certain amount of significance.
“In and Out of Africa,” an African art exhibit at the Pence Gallery at 212 D St., showcases the collections of Miep and Philip Palmer along with friends Lois O’Grady – to whose memory the exhibit is dedicated – and Ruth Lawrence. The exhibit is on display until Mar. 1.
“We never traveled to collect, we traveled and collected because it was there,” Philip said.
The collections represent objects from East, West, Southern and Central Africa, and most of the pieces have information cards providing them with a context and understanding of their origin. There are masks, stools, instruments, blankets and skirts, each with a unique story to tell from a different part of Africa.
The Palmers started collecting pieces in the 1960s when they lived in what is now Zimbabwe. At the time, Philip was a physician and Miep an X-ray technician who worked mainly in Africa, allowing them constant close contact with the people. As they traveled, they would collect pieces that intrigued them or that they liked, either because it had certain cultural significance or simply because they were drawn to it.
“Many of the things are their everyday things [in Africa]. They wonder why on earth we would want to buy them – and if we were foolish enough to buy them that’s fine, they can build another one,” Philip said. “It was never a question of pushing them into getting rid of one particularly treasured object.“
Miep explained that some of the items were gifts but everything else they bargained for and bought.
“If you don’t bargain, they feel badly done by,” Miep said. “It’s part of the game, it’s part of what you enter into.“
The collectors all have past links to UC Davis. Miep earned a B.A. in anthropology and an M.A. in art history from the university, while Philip, O’Grady and Lawrence worked for the UC Davis Medical Center.
These local collections have been drawing attention from the community, especially from the university itself, playing host to classes from several different departments.
“We wanted students to have a sense of meaning in the art so that they understand that African art is full of meaning … spiritual and the aesthetic,” said John Ortiz-Hutson, an African American and African studies professor.
Gina Werfel, an art studio professor at UC Davis, took her integrated studies honors class in order to connect her curriculum to world art.
“[The exhibit] represents art that Davis citizens don’t normally see,“ Werfel said in an e-mail interview. “It shows the difference between African art arising out of functionality and spirituality versus western art with its more ecumenical sources.”
“In and Out of Africa” will soon be moved for the last time to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento as part of their new Primitive Art section. The Palmers plan on providing the museum with as much information as possible to ensure that the pieces in their collection aren’t misrepresented.
“We think it’s important to have a description,” Miep said. “There are two views quite often in art and art history: to show art just by itself, no explanation, or you bring the culture into it.“
ELENA BUCKLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.