The Dallas Museum of Art opened a new exhibition this week, ‘The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana’ — an opening marked by the cordial, ceremonial visit of Daasebre Osei Bonsu II, Mamponghene, the second-in-command in the Asante traditional hierarchy, and his entourage, including his wife.
The Asante people (or Ashanti — the term means ‘war-like’) founded a gold-rich empire in 1670 in Ghana in West Africa, and ‘The Power of Gold’ contains more than 250 objects, spanning 300 years — everything from weapons, royal furniture, textiles and jewelry to a state umbrella. You know, regalia. This is a tribe whose throne is a silver stool. The Asante people — their arts, their economy, their rituals — were overwhelmingly shaped by the Gold Trade, first across the Sahara to Egypt and then with Europeans and Americans. Hence, the name for the entire area: the Gold Coast.
Come for the eye-dazzlers, stay for the history: ‘The Power of Gold’ is the first states-side exhibition of Asante gold in more than 30 years. It came out of the curiosity of Dr. Roslyn Walker, the DMA’s senior curator of the arts of Africa, the Americas and the Pacific (see our 2014 television interview with her here). In 2014, the DMA acquired two items, including an amazingly ornate, cast-gold spider, which had left Africa in 1883 and ended up with the Cree family, who were Scottish ranchers in New Mexico, and from there the gold came to Austin.
Through oral family history, British Parliamentary papers and an album of family photographs, Walker traced the spider’s travels via Brandon Kirby. He was something of an Australian adventurer. Born in 1852, he served in the Gold Coast Constabulary (the cops), was a diplomatic messenger, was probably awarded the gold by an Asante prince and then teamed up with James Cree in buying those New Mexico ranches.
But then Kirby had to exit New Mexico rather quickly — and left the gold with the Crees. For the show, his items were teamed up with the DMA’s impressive holdings in Asante gold and textiles along with items from the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and private collections.