Moroccan Jewish people, Dravalley, Morocco
Early 20th Century
Cotton cloth, silver alloy, glass, stone, animal hair, fiber
Museum purchase, 2003-2-6
As I was walking back from lunch I decided to cut through the National Museum of African Art to get out of the heat. While I was headed down the stairs and exhibit called African Mosaic caught my eye and I decided to have a look. For this exhibit, Mosaics does not mean the style of the art but rather the many different types of art that when combined; make up a small sample of the total African art collection. Just like a mosaic, when all these small pieces are combined it gives us a better picture of African art as a whole.
Usually an introductory panel to an exhibit tells you things you already know or could pretty much figure out on your own but something on this one stopped me in my tracks. One of the goals of the exhibit was to dispel the idea that Africa is an isolated or remote continent in terms of the art world. The exhibit features many modern African artists trying to dispel this myth; particularly through a synthesis of historic and modern themes and cultural influences.
Baule peoples, Cote d'Ivoire
Late 19th to early 20th century
Wood, gold leaf, glass beads, cloth
Museum purchase, 2001-9-1
What I found most interesting were the various takes on “traditionally European ideas.” For example, there were two African interpretations of traditionally Christian themes. The Annunciation, and the African Madonna and Child took these ideas and transformed them into what they would be in African culture. I found these works fascinating, moving, and beautiful. Another thing I learned from this exhibit is that the title of “artist” is traditionally passed down amongst the generations in certain families. This is why many pieces of African art are attributed to a group or region as opposed to a specific artist. Art was seen as an important cultural contribution and because the significance was placed on the piece and not the artist, self-identification by the artist on his or her work was rare. For all we know, there could have been an African da Vinci or Titian and we would never have known because they would never have signed their own artwork. Lastly, I would check out this guide provided by the museum on how to look at African art given the cultural differences between the arts in the different continents.