Sailing in Shackles, a Culture Survives

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“La Traversée” (1996), by the Haitian-born American artist Edouard Duval-Carrié. Is on view in “Kongo Across the Waters.”CreditBass Museum, Gift of Sanford A. Rubenstein
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An early-20th-century mask from Democratic Republic of the Congo. Is on view in “Kongo Across the Waters.”CreditRoyal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium

The subject of art’s far-reaching global crosscurrents has produced some wonderful recent exhibitions, among them “Kongo Across the Waters,” which just opened at the Princeton University Art Museum. The show begins in the ancient kingdom of Kongo, which covered parts of today’s Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon. Europeans arriving in the late 15th century found an imperial court rich in luxury goods like textiles and ornamented musical instruments, some of which they carried away as exotic souvenirs, leaving behind things of their own — swords, crucifixes — that were absorbed into local traditions.

The show is especially interesting when the story moves to the Americas with the early slave trade. Recent archaeological investigations of the sites of Colonial-era mansions and slave cabins in the American South have documented the arrival, and virtually intact survival, of Kongo forms and traditions there. The show then shifts back and forth across the Atlantic and ends in the present with work by contemporary artists. Fascinating, start to finish. (Through Jan. 25, artmuseum.princeton.edu.)

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