Most traditional African art has the purpose of invoking spirits, serving as guardians, representing deities, and teaching and guiding. When we look instead at utilitarian objects that were not created to express the spirit but for some other purpose, we open a window to other aesthetic elements—the repetition and contrast of forms, the patina of long use, the richness of materials, and the quality of craftsmanship.
The Ginzberg collection was formed around this principle, that there is much to be learned and much beauty to be found in the everyday, nonrepresentational side of African art. This exhibition presents two hundred splendidly crafted objects, including furniture, textiles, clothing and jewelry, ceramics and baskets, musical instruments, weapons, shields, and devotional items. The geographical range is pan-African, counting works not only from traditionally exhibited areas of the continent, such as western and central Africa, but also the often omitted regions of South Africa, East Africa, and the Sahara. The works appear in an abundance of materials, both noble and humble—gold, silver, and ivory, but also wood, iron, leather, horn, wicker, beadwork, and mud—and represents a wide range of uses, including domestic, military, political, and spiritual.
This exhibition was funded in part by a grant from the Cornell Council for the Arts.
Andrew C. Weislogel
Assistant Curator / Master Teacher