One of the most important collections of African art in the United States, the BMA's African art collection features works from more than 200 African cultures in a full range of media.
The BMA cares for approximately 2,500 works of African art and is known for its impressive collection of figurative sculpture from the western and central areas of the continent, as well its holdings of beadwork from the eastern and southern regions.
The newly refreshed African art galleries will feature approximately 90 of these artworks, including a monument to the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II, an array of royal masks from the Kuba Kingdom, and a painting by the Mozambican-born artist Cassi Namoda. This new presentation emphasizes the incredible diversity of African artistic expression while placing artworks within their evolving historical contexts. Sections include the age of empires in West Africa, the rise of the Central African states, the spread of Islam in West and East Africa, the impact of European imperialism and colonialism, and the growth and development of movements for independence and self-determination.
These different areas of exploration capture how African artistic production has been inextricably intertwined with social, political, and religious movements.
The BMA has one of the earliest and most important collections of African art in the United States. Featuring objects that span from ancient Egypt to contemporary Zimbabwe, the collection includes works from more than 200 African cultures in a full range of media.
The works of art are as diverse in form as they are ifunction and include headdresses, masks, figures, royal staffs, textiles, jewelry, ceremonial weapons, pottery, paintings, and works on paper. Many pieces are distinguished by their use in royal courts, performances, and religious contexts, and several are internationally known as the best of their type.
A major gift from the collection of Janet and Alan Wurtzburger in 1954 marked the beginning of a permanent display of African art at the BMA and assured a significant place for African art within the Museum’s growing collection.
Highlights of the collection include D’mba, an unparalleled Baga female dance headdress from what is known today as Guinea and Ngaady Mwash, a stunning Kuba female mask, embellished with paint, beads, and cloth, from today’s Democratic Republic of Congo.
A Perfect Power: Motherhood and African Art
D'mba from the BMA's collection figured prominently in this 2020 exhibition. Featuring nearly 40 objects from public and private collections, the exhibition demonstrated how artists have represented the power of African mothers and used maternal imagery to signal moral, cultural, and spiritual authority.
Adorned: African Women & the Art of Identity
Two dozen works from the BMA's collection explored the critical role of women in shaping and maintaining social identities across 20th-century Africa in this 2019 exhibition.
Kuba: Fabric of an Empire
This 2018 exhibition of Kuba textiles examined how a central African kingdom independently developed a form of modernist abstraction in the 20th century.