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UI faculty member helps organize African art exhibition

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- William Dewey, an assistant professor in the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History, helped organize the first major international exhibition of art from Zimbabwe, which recently opened in Brussels, Belgium.

"Legacies of Stone: Zimbabwe Past and Present" will be on display at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Brussels through April 30.

Dewey, a scholar specializing in African art history, was curator for the ancient and traditional arts part of the exhibition. He also compiled and edited the catalog that accompanies the exhibition, and he gave introductory comments at the opening of the exhibition, which was attended by dignitaries from Zimbabwe and Belgium as well as more than 500 other people.

The modern country of Zimbabwe (known in colonial times as Rhodesia) is best known to international tourists for natural wonders including Victoria Falls. However, its extensive cultural and artistic heritage is less known to the rest of the world. It extends from the San or Bushmen peoples of the stone age and continues with the rise of great kingdoms in historical times.

The rulers of Great Zimbabwe -- a kingdom that reached its peak in the 13th and 14th centuries and encompassed most of modern Zimbabwe -- declared their power by building the stone walls of the Great Zimbabwe ruin, the largest archeological site in sub-Saharan Africa.

Arriving in the 19th century, Europeans found many smaller kingdoms, each of them a source of vital arts and crafts.

"Legacies of Stone" is the first exhibition to present a complete overview of this cultural diversity. Dewey and the staff at the Royal Museum worked in cooperation with all of the museums and archives in Zimbabwe to plan for the exhibition, and Zimbabwean objects were borrowed from museums around the world. Contributions came from collections in London, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Frankfurt, Berlin, Rotterdam, Harare and Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) and Detroit.

Objects in the exhibition include stone-age rock paintings, items from the great kingdoms and the costumes and utilitarian arts of the 19th- and 20th-century Shona, Ndebele and Tonga peoples.

Dewey is one of the co-directors of The Project for Advanced Study of Art and Life in Africa (PASALA) at the UI. He has organized several African exhibitions at the UI Museum of Art, including "Staffs of Life: Rods, Staffs, Scepters, and Wands from the Coudron Collection of African Art" with UI faculty members Allen F. Roberts and Chris Roy as co-curators; and "Iron, Master of them All" with Roberts. "Sleeping Beauties: The Jerome L. Joss Collection of Headrests," which Dewey organized for the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at UCLA, also appeared at the UI Museum of Art.

He has published numerous scholarly articles and chapters in books on African art. His academic honors and grants include a Humanities Research Council (South Africa) grant for consultation with Art Historians and Museums in South Africa, an Old Gold Summer Fellowship for a research project on a book and exhibition entitled "Forging Meaning: Iron Art of Africa," and an International Partnerships among Museums Grant for linkage between the UI Museum of Art and the Great Zimbabwe Ruins Site Museum.

He is past president of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association of America, having served as its president and been on the board of directors since 1993. He was the Activities Chair for the 1992 Triennial Symposium on African Art which was hosted by the UI. Dewey received a master's degree in African Art History from Northwestern University and a doctorate from Indiana University.

12/19/97