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Art of Darkness: Art Nouveau and Style Congo


26 June 2012

These objects of Belgian Art Nouveau design exemplify a complex mix of artistic innovation, political radicalism, and imperial enthrallment.
These objects of Belgian Art Nouveau design exemplify a complex mix of artistic innovation, political radicalism, and imperial enthrallment.

The origins of Belgian Art Nouveau design and its relationship with the African Congo is the subject of a Sydney Ideas lecture this week.

Presented by Debora Silverman, Distinguished Professor of History and Art History at UCLA, the lecture draws from extensive research and her forthcoming book.

Professor Silverman says the origins of Belgian Art Nouveau are to be found in "a specifically Congo nature style in the 1890s". In her lecture she will look at the "unexamined cultural history of violence in 19th century Belgium and suggests its interaction with patterns of violence in the Congo Free State".

Professor Silverman will also explore the impact of a 2005 exhibition at The Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, just outside Brussels, titled Memory of the Congo.

The exhibition "attempted to confront for the first time a brutal colonial history in the centre of the existing institution of official national denial," says Professor Silverman.

"As part of this inaugural revision of 2005, the museum's rarely exhibited core collections of Art Nouveau ivory sculptures and wood furnishings were reclaimed to public view.

"These objects exemplify a complex and understudied mix of artistic innovation, political radicalism, and imperial enthrallment shared by members of the fin-de-siècle Belgian avant-garde, and they form part of a distinctively Belgian design style made from the raw materials of empire."

Debora Silverman is the Distinguished Professor of History and Art History at UCLA, where she has taught since 1981 and holds the University of California President's Chair in Modern European History, Art and Culture. Her books include Selling Culture, Bloomingdale's, Diana Vreeland, and the New Aristocracy of Taste in Reagan's America (1986); Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siècle France: Politics, Psychology, and Style (1989); and Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Search for Sacred Art (2000).

Professor Silverman has received a number of awards and fellowships including the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Gett Research Institute Scholars' Fellowship, and Historical Studies Member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In 2008 she was elected to the American Academy of Art and Sciences. Professor Silverman is currently completing a book entitled Art of Darkness: Art Nouveau, Style Congo and the Tervuren Royal Museum for Central Africa, 1897-2011.


Event details

What: Art of Darkness: Art Nouveau, "Style Congo" and The Tervuren Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium 1897-2011, a Sydney Ideas lecture co-presented with the Power Institute 

When: 6pm, Wednesday 27 June

Where: Foyer, New Law Building, Camperdown Campus. See map and directions 

Cost: This event is free and open to all, with no ticket or booking required


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