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May, a major exhibition of more than 130 works of art, from large-scale
masks and water-spirit headdresses to ritual dress and puppets,
was launched to tell the story of a unique environment, the oil-rich
Niger Delta region of Nigeria where different cultures share social,
spiritual and practical connections to the water. "The Niger
River, one of the longest in the world, empties out into the ocean,"
Berns explains. "Because the river system brought trade, the
area has historically been the point of access for the outside world
into Africa. We look not only at how the region's art and cultural
practices have developed in response to the environment and economy,
but how the outside world has influenced them."
next year, visitors to the Fowler will get a glimpse of the inner
workings of a Sufi mystical sect in Senegal.
background, her broad geographic reach from Africa to Japan and
eclectic interests make her well-suited to head what is one of the
nation's premier cultural museums, says Doran Ross, her predecessor
at the Fowler, who has known her since her student days.
Fowler is a museum that deals with the whole world, from past to
present," says Ross. "Marla's interests have virtually
covered the globe. Her background, from dealing with African gourds
to doing a retrospective exhibition on furniture to working with
contemporary installation artists these are the kinds of
broad skills the Fowler depends on. She's going to carry on its
tradition of innovative scholarship, of mounting ambitious traveling
exhibitions and building on what's been achieved in the past."
Berns: "We will pick subjects that will challenge visitors,
but we'll also provide them with all the information and the tools
they need to understand them especially if they're willing
to make the commitment."