Discoveries, Dispatches, and Discourse

New Acquisitions: Don't Be Cruel
How African puppet plays contribute to community life

In 2009, Esther Amrad Dagan donated a collection of African puppets, masks, and musical instruments to the ROM. Now on display in the Shreyas and Mina Ajmera Gallery of Africa, the Americas, and Asia-Pacific, the artifacts explore how integral performance is to African community life.

This kebe-kebe puppet acquired by Dagan in 1966 from Gabon is held by the handle at the base of the neck and manipulated by a puppeteer hidden behind a stage. A tent-like costume wrapped around the puppet’s neck disguises the puppeteer’s arm. Plays tended to focus on moral content: they poked fun at antisocial behaviours and reinforced cultural norms and appropriate social relationships.

A set of five puppets included in the donation represent the characters of the play The Trader and the Chief ’s Wife, in which a trader seduces the young wife of the village chief. She is punished and sent back to her village. The puppet shown here, representing the chief, was made by Kuyu artists from the Democratic Republic of Congo for a Gabonese theatre troupe that performed in both countries. The chief’s portrayal as rock idol Elvis Presley suggests an ironic and very global understanding of the notion of “king,” most appropriate for the mid-1960s.

Silvia Forni is an associate curator in the Anthropology section of the ROM’s Department of World Cultures.

News: Alexandra Cousteau at the ROM

On Tuesday, February 22, Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of the legendary Jacques Cousteau and founder of Blue Legacy, spoke at the ROM about her family’s mission to raise understanding and awareness of the importance of water in all its forms. Watch for more about this environmental advocate and her views in the summer issue of ROM.

Book Shelf
Paul Kane/the Artist/: Wilderness to Studio

Paul Kane’s evocative paintings of mid-19th century Canada have become a treasured part of Canada’s heritage.

Pick up a copy of the ultimate guide to Kane and his work—both paintings and sketches—with this lavishly illustrated coffee-table volume. Royal Ontario Museum Press, 416 pages, cloth, $75.