Curated to offer valuable insight into African artistic expressions, the artwork reflects the size and diversity of the African continent. African art expresses many aspects of the rich cultures of the continent, from personal identity, community entertainment, and communion with the divine to power, leadership, and collectors’ tastes.
Visitors will find figures from personal or family shrines, such as the Byeri guardian figure, complemented by those used in community shrines and spaces, such as Mami Wata and the Ethiopian Processional Cross. There are examples of secular art, generally made to be seen in public to communicate ideas about status, wealth and identity, like the exquisite Beaded Bowl Figure from the Kom kingdom of the Cameroon Grassfields, used by royalty to hold kola nuts for their guests, and the Ndebele Woman’s Beaded Cape from South Africa. The collection also includes a wide variety of masks like the Igbo Maiden Spirit Mask, danced in masquerades that carry religious and cultural significance for participants, including the audience. All these works demonstrate important aspects of the worldviews and aesthetic values of their cultures of origin.
While at any given time the exhibits in the African galleries represent less than five percent of the Carlos Museum’s African collection, along with key loans, the installation attempts to explore the extraordinary scope of artistic traditions throughout Africa. Although displaying these dynamic objects in a gallery space removes them from their original context, the new installation incorporate elements from the continent, such as tablet stands, made from iroko, a hardwood from West Africa. Visitors will be able to navigate tablets that are available for each section to learn more about the works of art and the themes in which they are organized. Each object can fit into multiple sections and visitors are invited to experience them as interconnected—not in isolation, but part of a larger conversation about material culture in Africa and throughout the museum.
The collection was formed in 1994 with a substantial gift by Georgia native William S. Arnett. Arnett collected masks and carved figures from West and Central Africa, particularly the numerous cultures of Nigeria, Benin (formerly Dahomey), the Cameroon Grassfields, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since 2003 the African collection has grown through select acquisitions and gifts to represent objects from East and Southern Africa, including textiles, ceramics, and jewelry.
Online access to object images
More than 2,000 high resolution images of works of art in the Carlos Museum's collections are available online.