Africa! To see it is to look over cast expanses of land, along rolling savannahs and across sun-baked deserts, into tropical forests and toward cool highlands. To explore it is to discover a motherland that has cradled humanity from its origins several million years ago to today's Dakar, Lagos, Nairobi, and other cosmopolitan cities. To know Africa is to meet its many people and to witness their expressions of religious beliefs, their social customs, and their life experiences, through a spectacular array of stories, music, dance, and art.|
Welcome to your African Art Collection, held here in trust for the people of Virginia and the world. These objects are beacons of human vitality and creativity, as well as important historical documents. But they were not meant to stand motionless or to be viewed solely for their form or craftsmanship. Instead, they were meant to be used: to be worn in civic pageantry and religious ceremonies, placed on altars for devotion, or danced in expressive masquerades.
African Art speaks! Some of these objects communicate with gods and spirits, while others reveal a person's status. Still others are used to resolve conflicts or convey wisdom and traditions to new generations. To communicate their messages, these objects are inscribed with meaning and infused with symbolic content, making them a rich visual literature that can be "read" by those for whom and by whom they were made. Here, we are privileged to tap into that vocabulary.
Collections are never complete. The VMFA's African collection will continue to develop, adding contemporary trends not yet represented and, where possible, rare works from antiquity. We hope you will find your experience here exciting and enriching.