There's an instructive exhibit at the City Hall Courtyard Galleries that says something about the losses involved in moving away from essentials.
Baltimore has for some time had sister city relationships with two cities in Africa, Gbarnga in Liberia (since 1972) and Luxor in Egypt (since 1982). To mark the decades, there is a show of products from both cities, together with some explanation of the cities, their cultures, and the sister city programs.
AThe products in the Luxor part consist largely of non-utilitarian objects -- jewelry, statuettes, reproductions of hieroglyphics, boxes and plates that look ornamental rather than useful. Some of this, especially some of the jewelry, is attractive, but by and large it has an impersonal look, of the mass produced and/or the turned out for tourist consumption. One piece, a gold-colored reproduction of the head of Tutankhamen, is actually marked on the back of the neck "Austin Prod. Inc. 1977." Is this possibly something made by an American company to be sold by Egyptians to traveling Americans? Like this object, much of the other material relates to the ancient Egyptian Empire -- a glorious past, to be sure, but very long ago.
The products in the Gbarnga part consist largely of utilitarian objects; they are obviously made by hand for everyday (or perhaps special occasion) use, and they impart the feeling that they reflect the present, or at least the recent past, rather than some long-dead culture. The clothing with exquisitely intricate TC embroidery, the woven baskets and hats, the wooden implements, the musical instruments, all possess the beauty of integrity, and most if not all communicate some sense of having been a part of people's lives. They remind us of the dignity of crafts, and of those who make them for a real purpose, not just as a reflection of some bygone era.
Indeed, looking at the chief's chair, at the rice shovel and gourd bowl, at the small sculpture of a woman carrying a bowl on her head, at the bow and arrow and animal pelt, at the mesh crayfish holder and so on, one can even conjure up some sense of life in the culture from which they come.
The fact that Luxor comes off worse in this comparison is not Luxor's fault. Life in Luxor is undoubtedly closer to that in Baltimore than Gbarnga's is -- look around your kitchen, and if it is at all typical of contemporary life you will not find a great many utensils and pots and pans that were made individually, by hand. The exhibit is a reminder, however, that if industrialization brings many advantages -- and indeed it does -- there are also some inevitable losses.
Where: City Hall Courtyard Galleries, 100 N. Holliday St.
When: Mondays through Fridays 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Sept. 11.
Industrialization brings inevitable losses.