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A Glimpse at African Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

The recognition of African arts became widespread during the twentieth century as museums began to exhibit African artifacts, and artists drew inspiration from them.

The New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art, also called the Met, isn’t an exception. The centenary of Armory show of 1913 brought the first exhibitions highlighting modern European arts with African arts inspiration.

The show featured a display of Central and West African wood sculptures and paintings, monuments, and pictures from collections of John Quinn, Pablo Picasso, Alfred Stieglitz, Diego Rivera, among other vital artists.

The Breakthrough of African Art in New York

In 1905, Henri Matisse, Constantin Brancusi, André Derain, Pablo Picasso, among other contemporary European artists, allowed Africans to collect and exhibit their artifacts.

The International Exhibition of Modern Art held in New York (Armory Show) in 1913 exposed modern art and avant-garde in America for the first time.

However, during the disarticulations caused by the First World War in 1914, new galleries were established exhibiting African arts among the latest trends.

The first two art galleries to display African arts in 1914 are the 291 or Little Galleries owned by Stieglitz and the Washington Square Gallery owned by Robert J. Coady.

The movement for the appreciation of African arts continued to spread from ateliers to galleries and institutions in many art forms, including prints.

Worthy of mention is the 1925 editorial by Alian LeRoy Locke in the Theatre Arts Monthly magazine. Here, he made collections of African arts with reviews.

African Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a collection of close to 3,000 African arts. The Met Collection of African arts are maintained, exhibited, and studied.

This section of African art at the Met was first considered in 1969 when Nelson Rockefeller introduced his collections of over 500 African arts, which he wishes to offer as a gift to the museum.

However, in 1982, the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing was inaugurated, displaying mainly artworks from Sub-Saharan Africa. Ever since then, the wing has expanded to house and display many other African art collections.

An Overview of the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing 

The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing of the Met is at the southern side of the museum, occupying 4,000 square feet.

The wing houses Galleries 350, 351, and 352 containing artworks arranged according to different African geographical areas.

A Representation of Sub-Sahara African Arts

The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing of the Met highlights artifacts from Sub-Saharan Africa, including South, East, Central, and East Africa.

These collections comprise 12th to middle 20th-century fabrics and sculptures by artists from Mali, the former Bamana, and others from Dogon, Tellem, and Jenne.

Some of the artifacts are products from wood and terracotta exaggerated figures representing traditions, among other subjects.

People use some of them to honor the patriots in the society, as seen in Gabon and Nigeria Fang and Oron roots. Evident also is the brass and ivory sculptures used to celebrate kings and queens in Benin, Nigeria.

In South Africa, the raffia-woven clothing by women in Kuba and relics from Swazi and Nguni are on display.

Highlights of Collections from West Africa

The symbol of the aesthetic riches of West Africa emerges from artworks from Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and the Republic of Benin’s artists.

These artists come mainly from Yoruba, Grassfields, Akan, Edo, and Fon tribes using their immediate materials like beads, ivory, gold, silver, and gems with inspirations from their tradition to reveal their creativity.

Worthy of mention is the masterpiece from palaces of Olowe of Ise in Yoruba land, Nigeria, and beaded artworks from thrones in Cameroon.

Central Africa Arts

The art pieces of central Africa are dedicated to nineteen century religious and legal works basically from Angola and DR Congo, including others from areas like Chokwe and Luba.

Most of these collections were dated back to the 16th century when Christianity came to central Africa. The relics, especially the cross and other spiritual objects, are on display.

These objects were used to invoke spirits and as office staff only held by legends, political and spiritual leaders.

Renovation of the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing at the Met

In January 2021, the galleries of sub-Saharan Africa, the ancient Americas, and Oceania at the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing were closed for renovation. The construction of Michael C. Rockefeller Wing was in 1982, which is over 40 years ago.

However, the renovation will be completed and opened in 2024 with a new modern phase, and it will revamp the concept of the galleries and the physical structures.

Collections of Sub-Sahara African Art at the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

Made available here are 43 records of the art collections with highlights;

Commemorative Post: Male (Ngya)Medium: Wood

Accession Number: 1973.264

  • Figure: Seated Couple

Medium: Wood, metal

Accession Number: 1977.394.15

  • Community Power Figure: Male (Nkisi)

Medium: Wood, copper, brass, iron, fiber, snakeskin, leather, fur, feathers, mud, resin

Accession Number: 1978.409

  • Male Figure with Raised Arms

Medium: Wood, patina

Accession Number: 1978.412.322

  • Queen Mother Pendant Mask: Iyoba

Medium: Ivory, iron, copper (?)

Accession Number: 1978.412.323

  • Pair of Diviner’s Figures

Medium: Wood, pigment, beads, iron

Accession Number: 1978.412.390-.391

  • Figure from a Reliquary Ensemble: Seated Female

Medium: Wood, metal

Accession Number: 1978.412.441

  • Face Mask (Kpeliye’e)

Medium: Wood, horns, raffia fiber, cotton cloth, leather, metal, the sacrificial material

Accession Number: 1978.412.489

  • Female Figure (Lü Me) 

Zlan of Belewale (ca. 1885, Gengwebe, Côte d’Ivoire – ca. 1955, Liberia)

Medium: Wood, fiber, pigment, cloth, metal

Accession Number: 1978.412.499

  • Helmet Mask

Medium: Wood, copper, glass beads, raffia, cowrie shells

Accession Number: 1978.412.560

  • Beete Mask: Ram (Bata)

Medium: Wood, pigment, kaolin

Accession Number: 1979.206.8

  • Mask: Female Figure (Karan-wemba)

Medium: Wood, metal

Accession Number: 1979.206.84

  • Head of an Oba

Medium: Brass

Accession Number: 1979.206.86

  • Mother and Child

Medium: Wood

Accession Number: 1979.206.121

  • Power Figure: Male (Nkisi)

Medium: Wood, pigment, nails, cloth, beads, shells, arrows, leather, nuts, twine

Accession Number: 1979.206.127

  • Sculptural Element from a Reliquary Ensemble: Head (The Great Bieri)

Medium: Wood, metal, palm oil

Accession Number: 1979.206.229

  • Ritual Vessel: Horse with Figures (Aduno Koro)

Medium: Wood

Accession Number: 1979.206.255

  • Ceremonial Ladle (Wakemia or Wunkirmian)

Medium: Wood, pigment

Accession Number: 1979.206.264

  • Headdress

Medium: Wood, leather, metal, bone, fiber, pigment

Accession Number: 1979.206.266

  • Figure: Head

Medium: Soapstone

Accession Number: 1979.206.296

  • Royal Seat (Lupona): Female Caryatid

Buli Master, possibly Ngongo ya Chintu (Hemba, ca. 1810-1870)

Medium: Wood, metal studs

Accession Number: 1979.290

  • Seated Figure

Medium: Terracotta

Accession Number: 1981.218

  • Seated Male Figure with Lance

Medium: Wood

Accession Number: 1983.600a, b

  • Seated Chief Playing Thumb Piano (Mwanangana)

Medium: Wood (Uapaca), cloth, fiber, beads

Accession Number: 1988.157

  • Plaque: Warrior and Attendants

Medium: Brass

Accession Number: 1990.332

  • Male Figure: Court Official

Medium: Brass

Accession Number: 1991.17.32

  • Lidded Vessel

Medium: Ivory, wood, or coconut shell inlay

Accession Number: 1991.17.126a, b

  • Lidded Saltcellar

Medium: Ivory

Accession Number: 1991.435a, b

  • Veranda Post: Equestrian Figure and Female Caryatid

Olowe of Ise (Nigerian, born Efon-Alaiye, ca. 1873–1938)

Medium: Wood, pigment

Accession Number: 1996.558

  • Illuminated Gospel

Medium: Parchment (vellum), wood (acacia), tempera, ink

Accession Number: 1998.66

  • Processional Cross

Ezra (Ethiopian, 1460–1522)

Medium: Wood, tin

Accession Number: 1999.103

  • Mask (Mukudj)

Medium: Wood, pigment, kaolin

Accession Number: 2000.177

  • Couple

Medium: Wood, pigment

Accession Number: 2001.408

  • Between Earth and Heaven

El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born Anyako, 1944)

Medium: Aluminum, copper wire

Accession Number: 2007.96

  • Power Figure (Nkisi N’Kondi: Mangaaka)

Medium: Wood, iron, resin, ceramic, plant fiber, textile, pigment

Accession Number: 2008.30

  • Lidded Vessel

Medium: Wood

Accession Number: 2013.165a, b

  • Throne of Njouteu: Royal Couple

Medium: Wood, glass beads, cloth, cowrie shells

Accession Number: 2014.256

  • Commemorative Portrait of a Chief (Singita)

Medium: Wood

Accession Number: 2015.119

  • Portrait of a Woman

Medium: Glass plate negative

Accession Number: 2015.499.14.1

  • Memorial Head (Nsodie)

Medium: Terracotta

Accession Number: 2015.790

  • Sachihongo Mask

Medium: Wood

Accession Number: 2016.106

  • Male Ci Wara Headdress

Medium: Wood, metal

Accession Number: 2016.574

  • Crest (Tsesah)

Medium: Wood

Accession Number: 2017.35

When was African art shown as art in Alfred Stieglitz American exhibition?

1914 recorded the first time Africans showed their artworks in Alfred Stieglitz American exhibition at 291, also called Little Galleries.

Why did so much detail go into African art?

Africa art has a lot of details because it drew inspiration from the African environment, which has rich histories and cultures.

What is the name of the art movement inspired by African tribal art?

The Cubism movement got inspiration from African tribal art, often exaggerated, conceptual, fashionable, and impressive.o

How has African art influenced artists in the West?

During European colonization and the emergence of religion in Africa, these foreigners came in contact with African arts. Their collections have ever since been inspiring artists from the West.

Conclusion

Since 1905, when European artists started collecting African arts in exchange for other foreign materials, African arts became globally recognized.

The New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art, otherwise called the Met, has since 1982 served as a hub for researchers and artists who study and draw inspirations from different African artifacts.

Of course, Africa has a history of humankind’s origin, and their bold art is a vast means of expressing their traditions and memories.

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