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LACMA exhibition 'African Cosmos' illuminates art of astronomy

LACMA exhibition 'African Cosmos' illuminates art of astronomy
This gold "soul washer's disc" made by an Asante artist from Ghana dates to the late 19th or early 20th century. Members of the royal court wore such pieces to protect the king and by extension, the nation. (Franko Khoury / Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

First, there was light. Then, a night sky filled with stars and a luminescent moon. Soon after? Art.

Since ancient times, communities have used art to relay stories and make sense of the world around them — particularly when interpreting the heavens and giving form to perceived deities ruling the forces of nature.

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A new exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "African Cosmos: Stellar Arts," showcases 40 rare objects in gold, silver, bronze, stone, beads and wood that collectively illustrate the history of African cultural astronomy, from ancient Egypt to the present day.

On view is a 4,000-year-old Egyptian Middle Kingdom star clock, carved onto a wooden coffin lid, that marks star patterns. There's a wooden divination board, made by the Yoruba people of Nigeria in the late 19th or 20th century, that was used to connect with the spirit world. A gold "soul washer's disc," more than 100 years old, was made by an Asante artist from Ghana in West Africa and worn by members of the royal court to protect the king and by extension, the nation.

Not all of the works in the show are old: A 2009 video projection by Karel Nel of South Africa incorporates data from a project in which he worked with more than 100 astrophysicists around the world. Called a "cosmic evolution survey," it maps a square patch of the sky south of the constellation Leo.

The exhibition originated at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art. It's the second show in LACMA's African Art Gallery, which opened in summer 2013.

Twitter: @debvankin

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'African Cosmos: Stellar Arts'

Where: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

When: Through Nov. 30. Closed Wednesdays.

Information: (323) 857-6000, http://www.lacma.org

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