When was the last time you took notice of a basket? It’s most likely that the relationship you have with baskets begins and ends with emptying your laundry at home – or maybe sometimes picking bread from a basket on a restaurant table-top. These woven objects often exist only on the fringes of the contemporary day-to-day in the Western world, but that wasn’t always the case overseas. As Chicago’s Douglas Dawson Gallery reveals in its current exhibition African Baskets: A Woven World, baskets were once almost central to the everyday comings and goings of life in the likes of Rwanda and Cameroon.
From battlefield to the hearth and shrine and even the wardrobe, almost every aspect of olden-day African life was infused with basketry. This exhibition traces the role basketry played in historic cultures in Africa from as far back as the early decades of the 20th century. Using the clues evident in a range of small, historic photographs known as cartes de visite, the curators of this show outline the role of the basket in many bygone communities, ranging from the tiny, extremely finely-woven lidded baskets of the Tutsi people, to the massive, bowl-shaped baskets from communities in Central Africa.
With many different pieces on show such as baskets shaped to form teapots, ceramic vessels and metal containers, this exhibition is made up of a huge variety of curious forms and functions. Most have a deep rich patina that is a testament to years of use and care. While many baskets’ uses are not altogether evident, the very high level of craft and creativity exemplified in these objects is in itself, justification for serious attention.
African Baskets: A Woven World, 20 May - 20 June, Douglas Dawson Gallery
South Loop, 224 South Michigan Ave, Suite 266, Chicago, IL 60604