Arts of Africa
The African collection includes over 700 works that highlight various traditional art forms from across the African continent. The works were produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and come from regions south of the Sahara desert, predominantly West and Central Africa. It is a diverse collection, including masks, ritual sculpture, devotional objects, bodily adornments, and utilitarian items.
The majority of objects in this exhibition were acquired in the 1960s and 1970s by travelers and collectors. The predominance of masks and ritual sculptures reflects the taste of American and European collectors at that time for naturalistic representations of the human body. The utilitarian objects demonstrate African artists’ skill of embellishing the decorative elements of functional items, such as a carved door or headrest.
Roughly one-third of the objects in the African collection were acquired in Liberia between 1930 and 1960 by American medical missionary Dr. George W. Harley. A graduate of Duke University, Dr. Harley assembled one of the most important collections of traditional Liberian masks and artifacts that are distributed today across several American museum collections. Many of the works from the African collection are on view for the first time since the Nasher Museum opened.
Special thanks to Christopher B. Steiner for his assistance and research on this collection.
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