African Personal Art and Adornment
When one thinks of African art, masks and figural sculptures come immediately to mind. While masks and figures are prominent in European and North American collections of African art, they are seen relatively rarely in African communities, typically in the context of ritual and ceremonial activities. There is a wealth of art in Africa, however, that figures in the daily lives of individual men and women. Such objects are practical and utilitarian but their form goes far beyond mere function. Some are elaborately decorated with human or animal images, while others celebrate pure geometry in their form or surface ornamentation.
This exhibition, drawn from the extensive African collections of the Longyear Museum of Anthropology at Colgate University, focuses on treasured items that are nevertheless meant to be handled and used. They serve their owners as tools, furniture, housewares, playthings, and objects of personal adornment. They were made for people in all walks of life - from farmers or weavers to chiefs and kings although those belonging to elite members of society are likely to be highly elaborated or made from precious materials such as ivory or brass.
The objects in this exhibition are organized into four categories of usage, the first of which includes intimately personal items associated with the body, such as combs, cosmetic boxes, and jewelry. A second group presents objects designed to express hospitality, including decorated vessels and ladles for serving food, palm wine, kola nuts or snuff. Two additional groups of objects are concerned with work and leisure. The former includes, for example, tools and weapons, the latter such objects as game boards, smoking pipes, musical instruments and seats of various types. Although highly personal, these objects of everyday usefulness are often aesthetic creations intended for public display and to testify to the wealth, status, and good taste of their owners.
The exhibition, curated by Carol Ann Lorenz, Senior Curator of the Longyear Museum of Anthropology, Colgate University, originated at the Picker Art Gallery at Colgate University in fall 2004.