AUTHENTICITY AND CREDIT STATEMENT, 2013
It takes much more than the traditional "having a good eye" to be an
TRADITIONAL AFRICAN ART STATEMENT, 1990
The works exhibited in our gallery, and images shown on this site, are traditional pieces from many of the major peoples of western and central Africa, selected to give a representative sampling of the subjects, techniques and styles of African tribal art. The visual arts of Africa range from body decoration (such as body painting and scarification), jewelry and dress, to architecture, utilitarian objects (such as weapons, currency, furniture and implements), musical instruments and sculpture, which are usually figures and masks. All of these served a function in the traditional tribal societies, to preserve and convey the beliefs and values of these societies that had no written documents. The masks were part of full costumes and were used with music and dance in ritual performances for social control, education of the young, enhanced fertility or success, divination, status and entertainment. The figures usually depicted ancestors or spirits; most were venerated and offered prayers and sacrifices in exchange for protection and well-being. Some objects were felt to be magical and were believed to have great powers.
The work is "traditional" because it has been made in the same basic style for generations, even centuries. The style of each piece is determined by its symbolic, spiritual significance in the life of the tribe. The amazing range of style comprises a complex and varied visual language. There is a timelessness here that is struggling to survive the influence of Colonialism, Islam, Christianity, modern development and all the problems of Africa today. All of us can honor and appreciate an expression of human creativity with rich imagery and a power that crosses ethnic boundaries. Hopefully, it will help each of us gain respect for, and understanding of, Africa and her people.
Most of the work is carved of wood; many include additions of cloth, raffia, metal, feathers, leather, nails, pigment, oil, beads or sacrificial offerings. Many of the masks have lost their raffia and costumes and one should realize that they were never intended to be static objects, but were endowed with rhythm, spirit and magic through the use of music, dance, drama and speech. Metal pieces, such as the weapons (ceremonial or actual) and currency survive longer than wood in the tropics. Most of the wooden pieces are 10-50 years old.
I collect African Art because of its power, beauty, magic and craftsmanship. My viewpoint is as an artist, not as an anthropologist. I choose pieces based on formal visual criteria, some knowledge of the tribal traditions, how well I feel the piece succeeds in what it attempts and whether the work gives me an inner sense of satisfaction, pleasure and mystery. It is certainly not necessary to fully understand African art to enjoy it with a sense of wonder and awe.
Tim Hamill, Director,
Hamill Gallery of African Art, Boston
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