The Dallas Museum of Art will present a rich and comprehensive look at African visual culture through The Arts of Africa, the first catalogue dedicated to exploring the Museum’s collection of nearly 2,000 objects—acclaimed as one of the top five of its kind in the United States. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the collection, which began with a gift of more than 200 objects from DMA benefactors Eugene and Margaret McDermott, the catalogue draws from both historical sources and contemporary research to examine over 100 figures, masks, and other works of art that represent 52 cultures, from Morocco to South Africa. Both visually and intellectually compelling, The Arts of Africa celebrates the striking beauty and stylistic diversity of African art, as well as its social and historic significance.
Available to the public in November 2009, the richly illustrated 320-page book was written by Dr. Roslyn Adele Walker, Ph.D., the DMA’s Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art.
“The DMA’s encyclopedic collections provide our visitors with a global perspective on art. Our extraordinary African art collection, which is diverse in form, medium and representation, has been a particular point of strength and pride for the Museum since the collection’s inception 40 years ago,” said Bonnie Pitman, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “With The Arts of Africa, Roslyn Walker takes an in-depth look at the collection, celebrating both the beauty and significance of these objects and making an important contribution to the global discourse on this rich yet still under-appreciated field.
“The first publication dedicated solely to the DMA’s African collection, The Arts of Africa traces the evolution of the Museum’s holdings and offers the reader a comprehensive overview of and introduction to visual culture in Africa,” continued Ms. Pitman. “The book includes chapters examining the political and social significance of the arts of Africa, the relationships between art and major life milestones in various African cultures, as well as the roles of decorative art objects in everyday life. A final chapter is dedicated to the history of foreign trade in Africa and its artistic influences. Each object is reproduced in color and many are accompanied by field photographs, which reveal how the artwork was used or displayed in its original context.”
“I am inspired by the rich history of the DMA’s remarkable collection, and thrilled to contribute to the ongoing international dialogue on African Art,” said Walker. “This book strives to present a wide-reaching and accessible narrative, reinforcing the DMA’s educational mission by engaging all readers—regardless of their prior knowledge of the subject.”
The DMA was an early advocate for the inclusion of African art in American art museums, and the Museum’s dedication to the field has set precedents since the 1950s. The collection is particularly strong in art from the Kongo and Luba cultures in Central Africa and the Yoruba and Edo (Benin kingdom) in West Africa. Visitors can view over 150 objects from the collection that are currently on view in the African and other galleries at the DMA, including the All the World’s a Stage exhibition on the Museum’s first floor. Highlighted works from the catalogue that are currently on view include:
- Waist Pendant, Benin City, Edo peoples, Nigeria, (c. 1750–1800) The king (oba) of Benin is the central figure on this rare carved ivory pendant, one of only five in the world. He is shown standing, his arms raised and resting on two attendants, in a symbolic pose of kingship.
- Kneeling Female Figure with Bowl, Olowe of Ise, Yoruba people, Effon-Alaiye, Nigeria, (c. 1875–1938) Olowe of Ise was a traditional African sculptor considered to be the most imaginative and innovative Yoruba artist of the 20th century. This polychrome wooden sculpture, a traditional object in the Yoruba culture, breaks with convention by emphasizing and celebrating aesthetic ideals of feminine beauty and reinterpreting the offering bowl.
- Headdress (D’mba), unknown Baga artist, Guinea (c. late 19th–early 20th century) This colossal mask of sculpted wood stands 49-1/4 inches tall and was worn atop the head and over the shoulders of a male dancer. The headdress can be seen in All the World’s a Stage, where it is displayed as a complete masquerade, with its raffia and cloth costume.
- Janus reliquary guardian figure (mbulu ngulu), Semangoy of Zokolunga, Gabon (c. late 19th–early 20th century) Carved with minimal features, the large ovoid heads are covered with brass and copper and rest on a lozenge shape that represents the arms of a truncated body. The vigilant figure guarded ancestral relics that were stored in a basketry container.
- Standing Female Figure, Luba artist, Democratic Republic of the Congo (c. late 19th–early 20th century) This exquisite work of wood and leather is adorned with beads and scarification on her body and still exudes oil from innumerable anointments. The figure was originally the top of a staff that served as a judicial emblem.
Prior to establishing its own collection, the Museum organized and presented several seminal traveling exhibitions—beginning in 1954 with African, Oceanic and Pacific Primitive Artifacts—that introduced the public to non-Western visual expression. Since this early exhibition, the DMA has continued to champion the importance of African art and its inclusion within the canon of art history.
The Museum formally established its collection in 1969 with a gift of 224 Congolese objects from trustees Eugene and Margaret McDermott, who had been advocates for the Museum’s African art program and who became long-time DMA benefactors. Since their inaugural gift, the McDermott family has played a leadership role in the promotion of the DMA’s African collection and new scholarship with the establishment of the Museum’s African Art Acquisition Endowment Fund in 1997 and the endowment of the curatorial chair for African Art in 1999.
Other significant acquisitions and gifts of African art over the past 40 years have included an important group of Central and West African statues and masks collected by Gustave and Franyo Schindler, and acquired by the Eugene McDermott Foundation and donated to the Museum; a group of six masks from Mali, Ghana and Nigeria given by John Lunsford, the DMA’s inaugural curator of its African collections and its keeper for almost two decades; an Ekonda chief’s hat given by the Friends of African and African American Art; and a Songye male figure from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a Yoruba ivory tapper from Nigeria, both donated by the Art Museum League Travel Fund.
About Roslyn Adele Walker
Roslyn Adele Walker, Ph.D., is the Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art at the Dallas, Museum of Art, a position she has held since December 2003. During her tenure at the DMA, Dr. Walker has organized several exhibitions, including Variations on a Theme: Three Olumeye by Olowe of Ise (2005–2006), The Art of Romare Bearden (2004) and Something All Our Own: The Grant Hill Collection of African American Art (2004). Her recent and forthcoming exhibitions also include Jacob Lawrence: The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, co-curated with Charles Wylie, The Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art and opening in December 2009, and African Masks: Conceal/Reveal, premiering in 2010.
Before joining the DMA, Dr. Walker was the director of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution from January 1997 until June 2002 and previously served as its senior curator since 1981. She has also served as director of the University Museums, Illinois State University at Normal and curator of its ethnographic art collection (1975–1981), and as curator of collections for the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan in Nigeria (1973–1975).
About the Dallas Museum of Art
Located in the vibrant Arts District of downtown Dallas, Texas, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and groundbreaking educational programs. At the heart of the Museum and its programs are its encyclopedic collections, which encompass more than 23,000 works and span 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Established in 1903, the Museum today welcomes more than 600,000 visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary readings and dramatic and dance presentations.
The Dallas Museum of Art is supported in part by the generosity of Museum members and donors and by the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas/Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Commission on the Arts.