Indigenous art objects are Vatican ‘cultural ambassadors’

This African reliquary is one of 39 pieces from a Vatican collection of indigenous artwork display at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The reliquary, called mbulu-ngulu, comes from the Kota people of Gabon and would have been kept inside a basket where the bones of ancestors were stored.

CNS PHOTO | COURTESY VATICAN MUSEUMS

This African reliquary is one of 39 pieces from a Vatican collection of indigenous artwork display at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The reliquary, called mbulu-ngulu, comes from the Kota people of Gabon and would have been kept inside a basket where the bones of ancestors were stored.

March 11, 2013

The de Young Museum in San Francisco is hosting the first exhibit outside the Vatican dedicated solely to the Catholic Church’s collection of indigenous art and artifacts.

Objects of Belief from the Vatican: Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas is running at the museum in Golden Gate Park through Sept. 8.

From the Vatican Museums’ collection of 80,000 Vatican ethnographic objects, Ethnological Museum director Jesuit Father Nicola Mapelli chose 39 that represent the collection’s breadth.

Most have never left the Vatican before, he said.

“What is important for us is that these objects are cultural ambassadors. They can tell the story of the people who gave the objects to the pope,” said Mapelli, who since 2009 has traveled to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America, Australia and elsewhere to find descendants of the artists who sent objects to Rome.

Antonio Paolucci, director of Vatican Museums said that “for the first time since its beginning in 1692 . . . there will be an exhibit outside the Vatican dedicated to this hidden treasure.”