Specials thanks to Eric Edwards for the generous use of selections from his African artifacts collection.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR / FOUNDER Vira Lynn Jones BOARD OF DIRECTORS Eric Edwards Marion Little Myrna Williams BOARD OF ADVISORS Danny Simmons Andy Young ADDRESS: 1157 Bedford Avenue, Suite 1 Brooklyn, New York 11216 646–338–2748(0) WEBSITE: www.bedstuymuseum.org
Photographer: Paul Takeuchi Costume Designer: Sinan Kamagate Website: designed by Big Apple Bites Back Productions Graphic Design: Cassandra M. Boler/Big Apple Bites Back Productions Published by Symbols of Tribal Spirits Publishing © Tribal Spirits: The Bedford-Stuyvesant Museum of African Art, all rights reserved
Brooklyn, New York
VIRA JONES — DREAM YOUR IDEA INTO REALITY
VIRA JONES Executive Director / Founder
Brooklyn, New York
To The People of Brooklyn: With an overwhelming sense of pride, I would like to present Symbols of Tribal Spirits: The Bedford Stuyvesant Museum of African Art to the people of Brooklyn, and the Bedford Stuyvesant community, in particular. This world-class museum is dedicated to creating educational and cultural enriching programs that will educate the youth and inspire them to develop an appreciation for the rich culture, history and art of Africa. This cultural arts institution was first conceived as an idea that I have been able to dream into a reality.
getting closer to acquiring a building to house the African artifacts. Despite all of this excitement, the museum has not been without its critics. People have suggested that the word, “tribal”, is a very “derogatory” term and should be removed from the name of the museum. The answer has always been “NO”. Since the dictionary defines the word “tribal” (same as tribe) as groups who share a common ancestry, culture and leaders, we will use the word with pride. Scientists believe at one time there
The concept to create a world-class African art museum was born in 2002 after a career as an Information Technology Help Desk Analyst ended abruptly due to the downturn in the economy. I had been truly humbled by going from enjoying a very comfortable lifestyle to collecting a weekly $400 unemployment check. I had been an avid African art collector for more than 20 years and to prevent myself from slipping into dire poverty, I started selling masks and statutes each Saturday in front of my Clinton Hill brownstone. The experience proved to be an eye-opener about the people who called Clinton Hill home. My two-year stint as an African art vendor evolved into a social party that educated me about how culturally, racially and internationally diverse my neighborhood had become. Neighbors, from as far away as Britain, Germany, France, Ivory Coast, South Africa and as close as Haiti and Martinique, wanted to discuss their experiences collecting African art or traveling on the continent. More than one individual expressed the need for an African art learning museum in the neighborhood. The seed to establish this cultural institution was firmly planted after a teenager, who was viewing the masks, blurted out that they were ugly and scary. At that moment, I realized that our children needed to learn the genius behind these African artifacts that the internationally renowned Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso, credits for inspiring his cubism paintings. By 2004, the Bedford Stuyvesant Museum of African Art Coalition, a group of racially-diverse and civic minded individuals, united for the purpose of enriching the community by creating a cultural arts organization. In the museum’s infancy, it was not easy to convince respected elected officials and community leaders to support this sorely-needed arts organization. Each time frustration set in and we decided to resigned ourselves that we should give up (and this happened quite often), we could feel a “Divine” hand and the spirit of the ancestors push us forward, encouraging us that defeat was not an option. Since 2011, Symbols of Tribal Spirits: The Bedford Stuyvesant Museum of African has been incorporated and has been granted its charter from the Board of Regents in Albany, New York. We are even
2 QUEEN MOTHER WITH CHILDREN Dogon People Mali Female Queen Mother holding the prince and princess
VIRA JONES — DREAM YOUR IDEA INTO REALITY (continued)
was a supercontinent called Pangaea that connected all the landmasses of the earth before they broke away 200 million years ago to form separate continents as they appear today. The most prominent place where this is visible is the northwestern coast of Africa and the eastern coast of South America. In that location the two continents look like they were once connected. That is why the museum staff believes that all cultures share similar “symbols” that bind people together and the museum’s exhibits will highlight these similarities. For example, when displaying South African Zulu baskets during street fairs, Native Americans would stop at the display to comment that the baskets resembled Navajo baskets from the mid-West. While selling beaded belts and masks, people from South America would stop to ask me what city in their country did acquire the beaded items. They would smile with amazement when I explained that the beaded artifact were from Africa. Next, critics have suggested that the museum would only thrive once moved to downtown Brooklyn that have enjoyed an economic renaissance. The answer is still “NO” and the museum will always reside in Bedford Stuyvesant. Secondly, I have been encouraged to remove the word “Bedford Stuyvesant” from the name. The name, the argument goes, makes the museum appear provincial instead of an inclusive international arts organization. My response has been that studies have shown that arts organizations attract a talented workforce, create living-wage employment and stimulate economic development in distressed neighborhoods. Therefore, the museum would make a substantial impact in low-income and minority communities by knitting community bonds, inspiring young people to create while building their self-esteem and stimulating economic development. Studies have shown that young people involved in creative endeavors are less likely to become a statistic in the criminal justice system. Critics have reminded me that I could not successfully manage a museum since I lack prior experience running one. My response has been that the rich experiences and challenges that I have faced during my lifetime on this earth have prepared me for this museum opportunity. I was born and raised in a small town outside Charleston, West Virginia. Most of my neighbors felt like members of my extended family and watched over me when my parents were not around (it takes a village to raise a child). 4
After high school and a journalism degree from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Ghana, West Africa teaching in a high school. I learned the local language, Twi (pronounced “tree”) and became a respected member of the community because of the respect a teacher enjoyed. In just six months I had adapted to a new culture, fell in love with the people, always craved the tasty local food and developed patience when faced with inconveniences such as a lack of electricity and water shortages during the dry season. It made me a stronger individual. Only after a year back in the U.S., I was offered an opportunity to teach English as a second language in The Peoples Republic of China. I taught intensive English conversation to university students who would be studying toward PhDs in science-related areas at some of America’s most prestigious universities. Despite living in a socially restrictive country, the classroom teaching very stimulating. Each day after I left class, I was on such a high that I felt I had taken a drug. The students were so excited to learn and that is where I learned to love being a college professor. After I returned from China, I decided it was time to become that award-winning writer that I had always fantasized about becoming. I applied and was accepted in to the graduate journalism program at Columbia University. Along the way I started a construction company. It has taught me how to manage people, resolve conflicts with angry clients and navigate difficult constructions projects toward completion. These skills will be invaluable while serving as executive director of the museum. The longer I live the more I realize that life is extremely short and I do not have immortality. When I move on to join my ancestors, I want to be remembered for creating a worldclass arts organization that people will enjoy for centuries to come. I want to leave this world knowing that I have stimulated young minds and built their self-esteem to the level where they feel that an opportunity or challenge can be achieved with a quality education, an open-mindedness toward grasping new ideas and perseverance. I have learned this important lesson while living and traveling in other countries--when young people have been taught to love and respect their own culture, they will find it easy to embrace and develop a curiosity about other cultures.
Brooklyn, New York
3 NKISI SPIRIT MASK WITH HUMAN TEETH Bantu People The Democratic Republic of the Congo The mask is used by the medicine man in healing and ritual ceremonies. Nkisi is the name for a spirit, or for any object that a spirit inhabits. 5
ERIC EDWARDS — AFRICAN ARTIFACTS COLLECTOR EXTRAORDINAIRE
ERIC EDWARDS African Artifacts Collector Extraordinaire
Brooklyn, New York
In the 1970s Eric Edwards, a Brooklyn native, acquired his first piece of African art, a statute of a Bambara maternity female from Mail for $300. The purchase created a passionate love for African art (he likes to refer to the art as African artifacts because they were utilized as implements of daily life) that only continued to escalate into a obsession for acquiring one-of-kind exquisite African artifacts for his expanding collection. Over the past 40 years, Eric has amassed one of the largest collections of African artifacts owned by a private collection in the U.S. As an active member of two exclusive audio societies, Eric discovered from the members (who were doctors and engineers) that a “true” African art lover could acquire important African artifacts from auction houses such as Christies, Sotheby’s, private collections and dealers. During the 1980s and 1990s, his research and purchases of antique artifacts escalated to a point where he started selling off parts of his cameras, electronics, antique clocks and his autographed collection to raise money to invest in museum quality African artifacts. Over the years, Eric has amassed over 1,500 objects that are housed in a loft, more than 5,000 square feet, in Brooklyn. The collection includes masks, statues and other artifacts such as garments, jewelry, weapons and household items used in African villages.
Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire).” Eric is also a proud owner of terracotta artifacts made by the personal sculptor of Jomo Kenyetta, the first president of a newly-independent Kenya. Kenyatta is considered the founding father of the Kenyan nation. Eric credits his father with teaching him about African’s undisputable contributions to mankind, which empowered him with a strong sense of self-respect and a dignity that gave him a sense of real equality. “My mother taught my brother, sister and me that we were never better than anyone else,” he said. “Whereas, my father taught us that certainly no one was better than us.” Eric grew up in Bedford Stuyvesant and attended Brooklyn Technical High School. Because he graduated at the top of his class at Brooklyn Technical High School, his name is inscribed in bronze in the “Hall of Honors” there. He received a degree in electrical engineering from the City University of New York (CCNY) and went on to work as a successful network designer at AT&T. He followed that success by working in technology sales for US Robotics and as a 3Com District Manager.
“The artifacts are an inspiration, and a link to my past heritage, as well as the heritage of mankind. I believe that art brings people of all races and ethnicities together, just as music does,” said Eric. “I love African artifacts because they are so beautiful, three dimensional, and intriguing, as well as they are a window into history. They are also a teaching tool about culture and life itself. The artifacts teach the respect for the ancestors, religion and worship of the family.” According to Eric, one of the artifacts that continues to amaze people and that everyone marvels over is the Baule slave set from the Ivory Coast that features an overseer holding an African woman in chains. “I acquired this piece in the early 1970s and it still incites and excites people to this day because of the provocative conversation it ignites and its testament to history,” said Eric. He also discussed as indescribable the feelings he had in 1984 when he purchased his first pair of golden sandals that belonged to an Ashanti (Ghana) King. “I still have never seen any finer,” Eric said. “Many of my artifacts represent secret societies, such as the Mende, Temne, Bassa, helmets of the Sande/Bundu societies of Sierra Leone and Liberia. I have royal power symbols from the chiefs of Nigeria and other countries. I also have an artifact from the collection of the former President of Uganda, Idi Amin and a brass engraved stool given as a gift to a Cameroonian King,” said Eric. “I have an artifact from the collection of former President Mobutu Sese Seko of the
4 COLONIAL SLAVE WOMAN AND OVERSEER Baole (Baule) People Ivory Coast This African artifact represents the colonial period and is a thoughtprovoking artifact illustrating the history of the slave trade. 7
5 Mami Wata Water Goddess Fanti People Ghana Mami Wata possesses African beauty. The appearance of her hair ranges from straight, curly to kinky black and combed straight back. In many parts of West and Central Africa, “Mami Wata” where “Mami” means woman and “Wata” meaning water. This translated to mean a mermaid or humanistic water entity. Mami Wata is often described as a mermaid-like figure, with a woman’s upper body (often nude) and the hindquarters of a fish or serpent. In other tales, Mami Wata is fully human in appearance (though never human). The existence and spiritual importance of Mami Wata is deeply rooted in the ancient tradition and mythology of the coastal southeastern Nigerians. Mami Wata often carries expensive baubles such as combs, mirrors, and watches. A large snake (symbol of divination and divinity) frequently accompanies her, wrapping itself around her and laying its head between her breasts. Other times, she may try to pass as completely human, wandering busy markets or patronizing bars. She may also manifest in a number of other forms, including as a man. In the Yoruba (Nigeria) tradition, the mother goddess Yemaja has been recently associated with Mami Wata in popular culture. Traders in the 20th century carried similar beliefs with them from Senegal to as far as Zambia.
Brooklyn, New York
6 ROYAL STOOL Kweli People Gabon The royal stool is used during special ceremonies and is positioned next to the King to show his power. The face of the stool is also carved in masks that are used in ceremonies to promote well-being and community. The masks are considered to be among the most beautiful in African art.
7 SPIRIT MASK Punu People Gabon The white-faced mask represents the spirit of an ancestor from the after world and it was often used by stilt dancers for funeral rituals. The masks are known for their elegant features, forehead scarification patterns and elaborate coiffures and represent the most beautiful woman in the world.
8 CHIMPANZEE DANCE MASK Hemba People Democratic Republic of the Congo The stylized chimpanzee masks are called mwisi gwa so’o, a term that alludes to the “spirit-invested object of the chimpanzee human” that inhabits the mask. The masks honor ancestral spirits of important individuals and convey a powerful ideological message about family and clan.
Brooklyn, New York
WHAT IS AFRICAN ART? A DEFINITIVE ANSWER REMAINS ELUSIVE
For our sake here we will generally consider African art to be the art produced by the African people living in subSaharan Africa who are ancestors of the indigenous people of Africa. DEFINING WHAT IS AFRICAN ART Even after narrowing down the people we will consider African, for the sake of defining African art, the answer to the question “what is African art” is still not easy. This is because of the huge diversity of the sub-Saharan people and the art they produce. However, there are some common traits that do define most of the art found in sub-Saharan Africa. These traits are: The creation of art for use by the people, not just for display. This use may be for everyday life such as pottery or for ceremonies such as a funeral. Bronze Queen Mother, Benin, Private Collection
Sculpture and other three-dimensional arts were a preferred art form as opposed to paintings. The creation of very colorful works of art. Abstract art was favored.
What is African art? In order to begin to answer this question one has to ask another question which is “who is considered to be an African?” The answer to this question is not that simple. African art is a term typically used for the art of Sub-Saharan Africa, while the art of the North African areas along the Mediterranean coast has long been part of a different tradition and for more than a millennium has mostly formed part of Islamic art. The Art of Ethiopia, with a long Christian tradition, is also different from that of most of Africa, where traditional African religion (with Islam in the north) was dominant until recently. Casual observers tend to generalize “traditional” African art, but the continent is inhabited by an array of diverse culture and people, societies and civilizations, each with a unique visual culture. Consider the following: Are the Europeans who have migrated to Africa over several centuries true Africans? Are the various people of northern Africa truly African? Do you consider ancient Egyptians to be African? There can be points made to include all of the above groups and arguments made to exclude all of the groups listed above.
The human image is a favorite subject.
Examples of African Art In order to further answer the question “what is African art” a list of various examples of well known African artworks are described in the following paragraphs. AFRICAN MASK African mask are perhaps the best known art form of the African people. Any museum display on African art would be incomplete without displaying the beautiful masks produced by the sub-Saharan Africans. Most of the masks were made out of wood and many were used in ceremonies. Unfortunately most of the older mask that were produced have not survived to modern day. This is due to the fact that wood is destroyed easily by water rot and the many termites found in Africa. African masks were an influence on European Modernist artist (such as Picasso, Matisse and, Vincent van Gogh). (References: Wikepedia, the free encyclopedia; Africa Facts website and Britishmuseum.org) 11
WHAT IS AFRICAN ART? A DEFINITIVE ANSWER REMAINS ELUSIVE (continued)
Westerners had long misunderstood Africa art as “primitive”. The term carries with it negative connotations of underdevelopment and poverty. Colonization and the slave trade in Africa during the nineteenth century set up a Western understanding hinged on the belief that African art lacked technical ability due to its low socioeconomic status. At the start of the twentieth century, however, artists like Picasso, Matisse and Vincent van Gogh became aware of, and inspired by, African art. These artists saw in African art a formal perfection and sophistication unified with phenomenal expressive power.
from a European world view. Craft-based activities in Africa yielded “art” that was used and valued for its functionality, its decorative and symbolic designs, and its spiritual dimensions. “Traditional” African art, as perceived by most people, is comprised mostly of masks, textiles and sculptures. These African artifacts have been labeled “traditional” for their recognizable stylistic continuity that belongs to a particular people or region. In reality, the objects that are regarded as art were not used or made for the purposes of being viewed as art pieces, but were created for social, religious, or utilitarian purposes.
ROCK PAINTINGS Rock paintings are the oldest known African art form; the oldest are thought to be 27,000 years old. The ancient Africans produced these artworks in caves and on rock faces. Great examples of these can be found in the Drakensberg Mountain Range in South Africa where approximately 30,000 rock paintings have been discovered. The very early paintings depict everyday life of the ancient Africans including representations of people and animals. As time went on these paintings became more abstract. For example the San (Bushmen) would eventually create artwork that would depict spirits in a very abstract interesting way.
So, what is African art? This is not an easy question to answer and it depends on who is considered to be African. The answer to this question probably will remain elusive.
TERRACOTTA FIGURES Terracotta figures have been produced throughout history in many parts of Africa. However, West Africa, particularly Nigeria, has a long and rich history of this type of art form. Terracotta figures are made out of clay. After the object is formed by hand and or tools, they are dried. In ancient times they were dried in the sun. Later on, the African people dried them in hearths. The earliest examples of terracotta come from the Nok civilization which existed in Nigeria from 500 BC to approximately 200 AD. Many Nok sculptures of heads, figures, and animals have been discovered. In the Sokoto region of northwest Nigeria, terracotta sculptures similar to those produced by the Nok have been discovered and date back to the 1st century AD. Terracotta art was not limited to West Africa. In South Africa, seven terracotta heads were found in the late 1950s. These sculptures date from 500 AD to 800AD. Twentieth-century African studies demonstrate that art in Africa needs to be understood in African terms, rather than 12
9 IVORY MALE STATUTE Baole (Baule) People Ivory Coast The statute represents the ancestral noble male figure in a special ivory carving. The Baole (Baule) people are an Akan people and one of the largest groups in the Ivory Coast.
Brooklyn, New York
10 MALE INITIATION MASK Yaka (Bayaka) People Democratic Republic of the Congo Yaka or yakala means “males,” “the strong man,” thus Bayaka, “the strong people.” The most important event in the Yaka ceremonial cycle is the initiation of young boys from adolescence into adulthood. To mark the end of the educational period, festivities are held in which the newly initiated young men perform with newly carved masks. 13
Brooklyn, New York
11 SKIN-COVERED MASK Ejagham (Ekoi) People Republic of Nigeria, Cameroon The Ekoi-speaking people are best known for their large, skin-covered masks that may have one, two or even three faces. This mask (above) symbolizes the most beautiful woman in the world and has two facesâ€” one frontal face and one toward the back. The two faces represent looking forward while learning from the past. 15
12 CHIEF HELMET POWER MASK Igbo People Republic of Nigeria This unique Igbo mask represents strength and natureâ€™s spirits and power. It is from a secret society.
Brooklyn, New York
13 IBEJI TWINS Yoruba People Republic of Nigeria The Yoruba people are widely known as having the highest naturally occurring rates of twin births in the world. The Yoruba people believe that twins share a common sole. In the Yoruba language, the word Ibeji means â€œtwinsâ€?. If the birth of Ibejis is cause for great celebration, the passing of a twin is cause for great mourning. If one or both of a pair of twins die, the family will have a small wooden figure carved to contain the spirit of the lost child. The grieving mother will care for the carved Ibeji figure as she would have the living child.
14 ROYAL SHRINE DRUMS Yoruba People Republic of Nigeria This pair of Royal Shrine Drums is one of a kind in the world. The drums are used in special palace ceremonies.
15 TERRACOTTA SCULPTURE Nok people, Nigeria The Nok terracotta sculptures were accidentally discovered in 1928 when they were unearthed. Little is known of the original function of the pieces, but theories include ancestor portrayal, grave markers, and charms to prevent crop failure, infertility, and illness. The Nok culture appeared in Nigeria around 1000 BC and vanished under unknown circumstances around 300 AD in the region of West Africa. Nok culture is a culture that provides evidence of the earliest ancient 18
civilization in Nigeria. Its social system is thought to have been highly advanced. The Nok culture was considered to be the earliest sub-Saharan producer of life-sized Terracotta. Archeologists have suggested that the Nok culture eventually evolved into the later Yoruba Culture of Ife, based on similarities seen in the artwork from these two cultures. Radiocarbon and thermo luminescence tests narrowed the sculpturesâ€™ age down to between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, making these terracotta sculptures some of the oldest in West Africa.
Brooklyn, New York
AFRICAN ART RUNNERS ENRICHED PRIVATE AFRICAN ART COLLECTIONS
ever be recognized for a job well done. These African runners, (this article will refer to them as African Art Runners) have enriched the African art collections of Western collectors, and provided traditional and tribal African for exhibition publications and scholarly books. “Most of the pieces I have sold to Western private collectors ended up in magazines and exhibit books,” said Kaba, who was born in Conakry, Guinea, West Africa. He started selling African art in 1975 in Liberia, West Africa. “I would see my pieces in these books but I did not receive any provenance or written credit that the piece had come from me. One time I had an argument with some people. I told them you got the African art from chiefs of African villages and you did not mention their names.” Even though Kaba said he was always so angry about the slights, he was motivated to continue selling African art to Western collectors because he said, “I had to make a living.” “The missionaries went to the villages and told the people that they could not love the art and believe in Jesus and that the art was evil…”
16 ROYAL KING Kuba People Democratic Republic of the Congo This wooden carving represents Nymi Bope, the living King of the Kuba people, who lives in the Mabinshe of Helo, the Mushenge Village.
By Vira Lynn Jones African runners have dominated the Boston Marathon since 1988, winning the last 21 of the 23 races. In the 2010 New York City Marathon both a Kenyan man and woman crossed the finish line in first place and each runner pocketed more than $130,000 in prize money. While these elite long-distance runners have returned to their respective countries as millionaires and heroes, there is another African runner or art dealer, like Mohamed Kaba, who will never experience the feeling of victory nor will he
Native-born African art dealers, often referred to as African runners” in the African art dealers’ world, started exporting African art to Europe and America shortly after the 19671970 Nigerian Civil War (often referred to as the Biafra War). Private collectors no longer had to visit a museum to enjoy viewing stunning African tribal art. African Art Runners helped these private collectors acquire African art masterpieces that some world-class museums would envy. “My elder brother was an African art dealer and he was buying a lot of African art at that time,” said Kaba. “He was a diamond broker in Liberia and since he had a lot of money, people would bring him art.” Kaba worked as his brother’s accountant and was responsible for keeping an inventory of the acquired acquisitions. He sold many of the African art acquisitions on consignment in Paris, Belgium, German and started selling African art in the U.S. starting in 1978. “If you say you just bought a piece of African art from Africa, nobody would believe you,” he said. “You now have to have a certificate called Provenance to prove that it came from a certain family or a certain collection. They (the private collectors and museums) can buy from an African and then create a Provenance with someone else’s name on it. They would just give you some money and wanted you to get lost.” 19
AFRICAN ART RUNNERS ENRICHED PRIVATE AFRICAN ART COLLECTIONS (continued)
According to Kaba, the pressure to produce a Certificate of Provenance started more than four years ago and it was a concept that started in Europe. “There is a belief that all great African art pieces come from Europe and nothing good is coming from African,” he said. Janet, who spoke on the condition that her full name would not be printed, works for a fine painting auction house. She said that the art establishment receives art consignments from many prominent private collections. “We are under pressure from the company directors to take art consignments from private collection with name recognition,” she said. “It is easier to auction off a piece of art if the Provenance on the certificate was from a well-known person such as Rockefeller. Nobody wants to pay high prices for art that has a “no name” person listed on the Provenance.” Some African art scholars have argued that African Art Runners lacked a connection or love for African art. Since many of the African Art Runners were Muslim, they found it easy to take art masterpieces from their villages and sell them to European collectors. The art was viewed as Haram, or forbidden (Halal means something that is permitted) and religious conviction dictated that the art was an object that should not be kept inside the home. Kaba, who was quick to dispel this distorted stereotype, and said, “This is not true. I have African art in my house. Nobody considered the art against their religion or Haram. My country, Guinea, is ninety percent Muslim and we have a lot of art. It depends on the tribe. Look at Mali. That country has the Dogon and Bamana people and Nigeria has the Yoruba (tribe). They have art.” In a familiar historical scenario of missionaries leaving the religion and confiscating the wealth, Kaba recounted a story that explained how many of the earlier African art masterpieces had been shipped out of African by missionaries who have since established their own museums. “The missionaries went to the villages and told the people that they could not love the art and believe in Jesus and that the art was evil. The people would bring their art and put it in a pile thinking that the missionaries were going to burn it. The missionaries kept the art and shipped it back to Europe, America and everywhere.” According to Kaba, if any serious art collector would moni20
tor Sotheby’s preview auction catalogs over the years, it is easy to conclude that these same missionaries have commissioned the auction house to sell their African art. After more than 36 years dealing in African art, Kaba said frustration has set in. Like most African Art Runners, Kaba said it is extremely difficult to make a living selling art and he is pursuing a new profession. “I am looking to change to some other business. All of these years of dealing in African art and I am not considered an expert,” he said. “I know Europeans who just got into dealing in African art only a few years ago and they are considered experts.”
“I am looking to change to some other business. All of these years of dealing in African art and I am not considered an expert”
After the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil happened on September 11, 2001, African Art Runners, like many other people, came under tighter scrutiny. Shipping containers, filled with museum-quality African art, were rejected by U.S. Customs and immediately returned to the African country of origin. African Art Runners found it more difficult to get visas to the U.S. and were deported for overstaying their tourist visas. In addition, wildlife organizations pressured African governments to crack down on African Art Runners who tried to export African Tribal Art with feathers and animal skins because of the concern these species may be on an endangered species list. After more than 50 years after many African nations gained their independence, the view is that the best place to purchase traditional and tribal African art is in Europe. African art scholars claim the best place to view the masterpieces of African tribal art is not Africa but London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. They also claim that quality African artifacts are no longer available and the African artifacts created a century ago are extremely rare to obtain. “There is still good art in Africa,” said Kaba. “There are tribes in Africa who will not sell their art for any price. They do not sell for money.” (Sources: Internet Articles)
Brooklyn, New York
17 DAN/GUERRE (GERE)/WE WAR MASK Dan, We, Guerre (Gere) People Ivory Coast, Liberia This expressive face mask with exaggerated facial features comes from the Dan, We or Guerre People. The mask was used as a police mask or a war masks. The mask is meant to instill fear through its appearance combining human and animal features. 21
18 EPA SHRINE HELMET MASK Yoruba People Republic of Nigeria The mask is from the Gargarjuan secret male society. It is used in the initiation of young boys into manhood or soldiers. 22
Brooklyn, New York
QUEEN MOTHER IDIA BENIN IVORY MASK VIEWED AS AN AFRICAN ART MASTERPIECE
The Benin ivory mask is more than a face. Art scholars and collectors of African art have proclaimed the mask as one of the many masterpieces of African art. It has graced the covers of posters, magazines and books. Even though the ivory stands only nine inches tall, a rich history surrounds it. The 16th Century ivory mask, depicting the head of the queen mother from the Edo peoples of the Kingdom of Benin (now Nigeria), was stolen during the colonial era by a British Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lionel Galway. He had acted as a Deputy Commissioner and Vice Consul in what is now known as the Niger Delta Region. Galway and other British soldiers had engaged in a massive plunder of prized artifacts when the soldiers attacked the Benin kingdom, looted its prized possessions and burned down the city. In 2011 Galway’s descendants had contacted the auction house, Sotheby’s, to handle the sale of the masks that was expected to fetch more than $7 million. Sotheby’s issued a rare press release announcing the cancelation of the auction after a United Kingdom-based Nigerian activists group, who were demanding that many pillaged artifacts during the colonial period be returned, protested the sale of the prized mask. Two other identical masks currently exist at two prominent museums. One is housed in The Metropolitan Museum (MET) and was donated by Nelson A. Rockefeller. The second one is located in the British Museum in London. Although images of women are rare in Benin’s courtly tradition, these two works have come to symbolize the legacy of a dynasty that continues to the present day. The pendant mask is believed to have been produced in the early sixteenth century for the King or “Oba” Esigie, the king of Benin, to honor his mother, Idia. The back of the masks is hollowed out so the Oba can place medicines there to protect him. The Oba may have worn it at rites commemorating his mother. According to British Museum’s website, the top of the mask has a decoration of heads which stands for the Portuguese people who Benin had shared an alliance. This also symbolized that Benin people had good relationships with foreigners and were respected. Another reason the Edos respected the Portuguese is because the Edos thought they were from the world of the dead because they had white skin. This also showed the importance of the ancestor spirits in the Edos culture. There are two vertical bars made of iron
16th Century (AD) Ivory Mask, Edo People, Benin, Nigeria
between Idia’s eyes. They were placed there to represent her medicine-filled incisions which were the source for Idia’s mystical powers. Along the bottom area of the mask, there is a row of corals. The corals were prized possession for the royal people in Benin. [Sources: Internet articles and the British Museum website] 23
19 QUEEN MOTHER WITH CHILDREN HOLDING AN EGG Bamileke People Cameroon The Queen Mother is holding the birth egg of the nation. 24
Brooklyn, New York
20 ROYAL PALACE DRUM Yoruba People Republic of Nigeria The royal palace drum stands six feet high and carved from the trunk of one tree. The drummer would stand on an object that would resemble a ladder. It is the tallest drum in all of Yoruba land and it is used in special ceremonies. The drum is carved from one piece of wood and has more than 300 Ibeji figures carved in its base.
21 ELEPHANT MASK Bwa (Bobo) People Burkina Faso The elephant mask symbolizes strength and knowledge of societyâ€™s elders.
Brooklyn, New York
Proud to support Symbols of Tribal Spirits as part of Celebrate Africa Month Fort Greene Office | 65 Lafayette Avenue | 718.210.4000 The Corcoran Group is a licensed real estate broker.
All African artifacts listed in this book are part of the Eric Edward Collection: (ln order of appearance) 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.
Dan/Guerre/We War Mask Dogon Queen Mother With Children Nkisi Spirit Mask With Human Teeth Baole (Baule) Colonial Slave Woman And Overseer Fanti Mami Wata Water Goddess Kweli Royal Stool Bunu Spirit Mask Hemba Chimpanzee Dance Mask Baole (Baule) Ivory Male Statue Yaka (Bayaka) Male Initiation Mask Ejagham (Ekoi) Skin Covered Mask
12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21.
Igbo Chief Helmet Power Mask Yoruba Ibeji Twins Yoruba Royal Shrine Drums Nok Terracotta Sculpture Kuba Royal King Dan/Guerre/We War Mask Yoruba Epa Shrine Helmet Masks Bamileke Queen Mother With Children Holding An Egg Yoruba Royal Palace Drum Bwa (Bobo) Elephant Mask
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The Museum wishes to thank particularly:
A special thanks to our Sponsors:
A very special thanks to:
Borough President Marty Markowitz Art and Culture Policy Liaison Liz Koch Council Member Letitia James Chief of Staff (to Letitia James) Gigi Davis-Elliott Director, Bonding and Technical Assistance Program, NYC Small Business Services, Emmanuel Anosike
A. J. Archer Construction Corcoran Group Fillmore Real Estate Foodtown Modells Restoration Plaza
Emmanuel Anosike Dr. Nkwocha Lawrence Danny Simmons Andy Young Myrna Williams Katuria Norwood
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