Art of the Cameroon Grassfields, A Living Heritage in Houston celebrates the enduring artistic traditions from Cameroon and its global diaspora.
Presented in two different galleries, one space features more than twenty historical works from the holdings of the Menil Collection, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and local private collections. Highlights include headdresses, masks, prestige hats, royal stools and figural sculptures, and palace architectural elements from several of the Grassfields kingdoms.
The accompanying space features two recent artworks by Douala-based artist Hervé Youmbi (b. 1973), whose work engages with the region’s rich artistic heritage, the legacies of colonialism, and the international circulation of historical African art. Contemporary counterpoints to the display of historical works, Youmbi’s projects underscore the vibrant living cultural heritage of the Grassfields and its ongoing transformation at the hands of contemporary artists.
Situated in the west and northwest of Cameroon, abutting the southeastern border of Nigeria, the Grassfields is a verdant landscape of mountains and highland plateaus. It is home to some 200 independent monarchies (chefferies) distinguished by their origin stories, languages, and cultural practices. Each is governed by a paramount ruler, generally referred to as fon or fo, and a council of nobles. Many of the kingdoms date to the 17th century or earlier, while others developed more recently as political power and economic centers shifted because of European colonial occupation. Today, artistic patronage for royal courts and international markets continues to shape the identities of Grassfields kingdoms.