A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
African Art Exhibit Hopes to Give New Perspective on Tribal Art
Organizers of a new exhibition of African art want Americans to know the continent's artistic expression consists of more than tribal masks and figures. From VOA's New York bureau, Maura Fogarty takes a look at the diverse styles and themes in the exhibit titled, "African Art Is..."
From Bwa ceremonial masks to modern abstract paintings by contemporary artists, to illustrations with political themes, the paintings and objects on display at the New York exhibit highlight an Africa with which many Americans are unfamiliar.
For many in the United States, the perception of African art often starts and ends with tribal art. Jean Endicott, a collector of African art for more than 30 years, says, even what Americans know of tribal art is flawed.
"I think, unfortunately, that mainstream America has seen lower quality materials, what we call airport art - art that is carved for export and not the traditional tribal art that was actually used in the community," she says. "What I like about the museum and the show like this is it starts exposing people to what it can really be like and how beautiful it can be."
"The sort of classical view of African art as it is in books and [as] it is taught in a lot of schools is that it's over, it's passed. It disappeared when Westerners arrived in Africa and killed it," he explains. "And we wanted to make the point that it is still very much alive although perhaps in different forms."
Those different forms are arranged according to several main themes, exploring the spiritual, historical, political, local and even global aspects of African artistic expression.
Organizers are displaying the works of art in the most unlikely of places - the lobby of Swiss bank, UBS's, headquarters in New York City. Colin Thomson, who is director of the UBS Art Gallery says showcasing the artwork in such a way helps it reach a wider audience.
Museum officials say in the two decades since they first opened their doors, they have seen perceptions changing slowly and a growing awareness of what African art really is.
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