Art of Africa: Objects from the Collection Warren Robbins

Apr 26, 2009 - Jul 19, 2009

The special exhibition Art of Africa presents more than 60 objects, including sculpture, textiles, beaded clothing and jewelry, which represent the creativity and diversity of artistic expression of nearly 30 cultures of sub-Saharan Africa. It illustrates the broader cultural context in which these art forms were created and used.

The collection is on loan from the Center for Cross Cultural Communication in Washington, D.C. Warren Robbins, its founder and director, is also founding director emeritus of the National Museum of African Art, now a branch of the Smithsonian Institution.

After leaving the State Department in 1962, Robbins established an interdisciplinary educational institute, the Center for Cross Cultural Communications, out of his Capitol Hill home. A year later, Robbins purchased the Washington home of abolitionist Frederick Douglas and opened the Museum of African Art on Capitol Hill, the first museum in the United States devoted exclusively to the rich, creative heritage of Africa. Its stated purpose was to “foster a deeper understanding of African culture, its history, its values, its creative tradition” and its relevance to lives of contemporary Americans.

Originally collected by European explorers and ethnologists as academic specimens or curios, African sculptures had, by the end of the 19th century, begun to accumulate in European natural history museums and found their way into the hands of dealers in antiques and the “exotic” arts. At the beginning of the 20th century, a handful of European artists in France and Germany were intrigued by the unique forms and styles of African art and began to draw creative inspiration from them. The aesthetic significance of African art became highly appreciated and respected in Europe and served as a catalyst for the artistic revolution that ushered in modern art around the world.

Dr. Ofori Ansa, the curator for the exhibition, is an associate professor of African art at Howard University, Washington, D.C. Born and raised in Ghana, West Africa, he has curated several contemporary and traditional African art exhibitions in Ghana and the United States.

Art of Africa is organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C., a non-profit arts service organization.

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