• Land, Animals, and the Spirit World

    Storytelling was, and continues to be, an important part of Inuit life. The stories Irene Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq's grandmother told her about Inuit relationships with the natural world would later become central to her work as a textile artist.

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  • A Ballgame with Big Consequences

    If you look closely at this carved yoke, you’ll notice people and animals that connect us to an important ancient Mesoamerican practice: the ballgame.

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  • Adorned by the Trees

    Imagine making clothing from a tree. What do you think it would feel like? How would you make it? There's a global tradition of creating fabric, called by various names but most commonly bark cloth, from the inner bark of trees. On some islands in the South Pacific, bark cloth is called tapa and is made from the paper mulberry tree. A siapo is a large piece of tapa, like the one in the BMA’s collection.

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  • Process and Purpose

    A Muisca artist from the Cordillera region of present-day Colombia crafted this male figure out of gold and copper alloy. Gold tunjos, such as the BMA’s Votive Figure, were potent symbols of power and distinction in South American societies.

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  • A Face for Giving Thanks

    Mawa means “face” in Kalaw Lagaw Ya, the language of some Torres Strait Islanders. The materials reflect the specific environment of Saibai, one of approximately 274 small islands that are a part of the Torres Strait archipelago. Mawa masks appeared during annual harvest celebrations.

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  • Duality Under The Sea

    The Double chambered bottle is a vessel crafted by a Moche and made from molds of two different shells: spondylus and strombus, which were highly valued for millennia throughout the Ancient Americas.

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  • Wearing Leadership

    What do leaders in your life wear to denote their role in your school, state, or country? The lei niho palaoa, or “chiefly necklace,” was a symbol of rank worn in the 18th and mid-19th centuries by the people of the highest rank in the Hawaiian Islands.

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  • Water Deity Figure

    The cultural activities, belief structures, and art of the Nahua (Aztec) Empire centered around numerous deities, including the powerful water goddess Chalchiuhtlicue. This sculpture of the goddess was finely carved from basalt, or volcanic rock, in central Mexico during the height of the Aztec Empire.

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  • Safety at Sea

    If you traveled across the ocean by boat, how would you protect yourself from splashing water? In the past, Massim sailors in Oceania used splashboards to shield canoes from waves and mesmerize onlookers when arriving at a trade island for Kula, a ceremonial exchange of shells that reinforced social connections between islanders.

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  • The Flowering of Long Life and Health

    Looking closely at this flower-like object crafted in Jingdezhen, you may notice that it has two layers of what could be petals (12 in total) that swirl in a counter-clockwise direction.

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  • From Architecture to Art

    Start by looking at the solid navy square in the center of this quilt by Lucy T. Pettway and let your eye travel outward to take in the progressively larger squares delineated in thin stripes—like frames for paintings or photos.

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  • What's in a flag?

    A collection of brightly colored flags hangs from the ceiling in Stephanie Syjuco's Rogue States—each one with a distinct design.

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  • Shedding Light on a Loved One

    Henry Ossawa Tanner described this painting as “a hurried study of my dear father,” a remarkably humble assessment of this beautifully rendered and sensitive portrait.

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  • Designing in Crisis

    The Traction Leg Splint pictured is the result of the designers Charles and Ray Eames using their experience making furniture with plywood to craft a new kind of leg splint for injured soldiers during World War II.

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  • Adornment and Identity

    Though this vest—designed for a boy by a Lakota artist—is small, it is rich with beadwork designs in red, white, blue, and green against a background of clear glass beads on leather.

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  • Mother Power and Protection

    This polished wood nkisi sculpture from the Democratic Republic of the Congo depicts a young woman sitting proudly with mirrored eyes, iron earrings, and an elegant high cap. At her midsection sits a rounded, mirrored area.

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  • Finding Common Ground

    A lion and an ox face each other on either side of a fruit tree’s trunk in this mosaic from the ancient city of Antioch.

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  • Monumental Grace

    What comes to your mind when you think of a monument? Perhaps you think of the Statue of Liberty in New York or the monument to Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. Or perhaps there are local monuments you have noticed in your own community. "Grace Stands Beside" by Shinique Smith is a powerful departure from the typical monument.

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  • Resisting Material

    When you look at this wide, round jar, what do you see? The lower quarter of the vessel is an off-white color, but the rest of the jar displays a vibrant range of whites, greens, and browns. This "Jar Decorated with Resist Motif" was made in China in the early 8th century during the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) at the height of the Silk Road.

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  • Espalier

    On a background of bright red linen, a multi-limbed form stretches across the horizontal surface with its individual limbs reaching upward. The title of this artwork by Gloria Balder Katzenberg—Espalier—indicates that this fantastical form is actually a tree.

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  • A Spontaneous Family Portrait

    In this black-and-white photograph by SHAN Wallace, four very young children—wearing warm weather clothes—hold on to each other with unmistakable affection.

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  • Drawing Closer to Healing

    While the works in Jo Smail's Speechless series may seem like modest drawing explorations, the story behind them illustrates the determination and perseverance of the artist.

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  • Humanity Everywhere

    Seven distinct figures stand in a line, framed and enmeshed with a dense variety of shapes and smaller human silhouettes that appear to walk or dance. This artwork is part of Valerie Maynard’s acclaimed No Apartheid series.

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  • Painting Surprise and Wonder

    As you enter the large gallery where Katharina Grosse’s Is It You? is installed, you see a massive, draped fabric form. In some areas, the fabric is left unpainted, but the bursts of color—some disbursed, some densely enmeshed, and some just a light spray of droplets—hint at the possibility that there is more to this work than just the exterior.

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  • The Art of Identity

    A cape, a fringed veil, a decorative skirt apron—these and other garments form the wedding ensemble in a style popular for a Ndebele bride in 1980s South Africa.

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  • Not Just Any Still Life

    A blue vase by Rebecca Salsbury James holds white lilies, pink poppies, one white rose, one pink pansy, and blue forget-me-nots arranged with greenery. The vase itself seems suspended in space, casting a narrow shadow on an all-white background.

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  • Food, Farming, History, Memory

    A sharp, beak-like metal object attached to what looks like a two-rung ladder is suspended at the intersection of three thick, rusted chains hanging from the ceiling. A fourth chain hangs from the central object with a hook dangling from the end. The taut chains create a path for the viewer’s eye as it focuses on the central object. In fact, this object is part of a plow blade that holds cultural, historic, and nostalgic importance for the artist, Melvin Edwards. The title of the work, Agricole, is French for “agricultural,” and evokes Edwards’ time in Dakar, Senegal.

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  • A Rich Rainbow

    Anchored on the left by a vertical rectangle of dense black, this wall piece by artist Shinique Smith unfurls in a rainbow-like sequence of colors— blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and pink.

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  • Starry Skies

    A square white quilt virtually explodes with numerous colorful stars. Each star is unique, varying in the fabrics used, the color and character of the stitching around them, the knotting and other embellishments, and the number of points. Take a look at "Plantation" by Elizabeth Talford Scott.

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  • An Artist Honors the Ancestors

    Epa masks, as headpieces like these are called, can be relatively simple in design, but this mask, with its elaborate, multitiered elements, reflects the artistic mastery of sculptor Bámgbóyè, who is considered one of the leading artists of his generation.

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  • Face and Form

    The words “Application for Employment” appear at the top of this work but this is much more than a simple job application. The artist, Adrian Piper, has used a generic application form and rendering of a face on it to deftly contrast how applications are used to create a “portrait” of a person and their worth in relation to the topic of the form.

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  • A Multitude of Minotaurs

    Four issues of Minotaure, the Surrealist magazine published from 1933 to 1939, reflect four distinct interpretations of the mythical Minotaur by four different artists: Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, Max Ernst, and André Masson.

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  • Bee and Flower Syndrome

    Ebony G. Patterson made ... and babies too ... in response to the 18 children killed in her home city of Kingston, Jamaica, in early 2015, memorializing them with 18 pairs of cast glass shoes. Patterson challenges us to contrast the trappings of carefree childhoods with the reality of the pervasive violence that affects so many young people, especially young black and brown people around the world.

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  • Hybrid Power

    In this sculpture, Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu evokes the nguva of East Africa, a feared sea-woman who lures men to watery graves.

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  • Pushed to the Margins

    In "Spoiled Foot," artist Mark Bradford is thinking broadly about the many people today increasingly forced to the economic, geographic, and social margins.

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  • CUT!

    Consistent with John Waters’s ability to sharply puncture pretentions, "Bad Director’s Chair" ruthlessly exposes the chaos of a horribly run film set about to unleash yet another bad film on the public or into the ether in which forgettable movies disappear.

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  • Portrait of a Truck

    Dramatically poised in a darkened tunnel, this truck, named “Tenkamaru” by artist Masaru Tatsuki, hums with light. The photograph, more akin to a portrait of a beloved family member or an important citizen than the simple visual record of a vehicle, grabs the eye of the viewer with its dazzling electricity.

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  • Odyssey & Origin

    What do you see when you look at this sculpture? The artist, Jack Whitten, titled this work Anthropos #1. Anthropos is the Greek word for “humankind.”

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  • A Cloud of Light

    Delight in an elegant, glittering cloud of “moon dust” envisioned by artist Spencer Finch. This captivating artwork is composed of 417 LED lights suspended from the ceiling of the BMA’s Fox Court on 150 “chandeliers.”

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  • Colorful Connections

    Clusters of glorious color hang in the air in Tomás Saraceno's "Entangled Orbits." Bubbles, clouds, planets—call them what you will—these beautiful structures play games with our eyes. How can this sculpture be so delightfully changeable and unpredictable?

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  • Nat Turner's Plot

    In this quilt, Baltimore artist Stephen Towns shows us the hours before the uprising led by Nat Turner began—the final plotting and planning, the vowing to stick together whatever the cost.

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  • A Mask and Its Meaning

    The Pende ethnic group of the Democratic Republic of the Congo believed that ancestors (mvumbi) were an active presence in the community, whether for good or ill. The Pende tried to stay on the good side of the ancestors by honoring their spirits in community celebrations and rituals. During these events, Pende ancestors emerged from their home in the forest in the form of masked dancers. One of the dancers might have worn the mask of Gitenga, who was the kind, caring “grandfather” of all ancestors.

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  • Inches, Feet, and Fun

    A windmill, a pig, a pear, and a hot air balloon have next to nothing in common. But take a close look at these pocket-sized objects.

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  • Fighting Back For Land

    In 1911, a strong-willed rebel named Emiliano Zapata mobilized armies of poor farmers in Mexico to retake stolen farmland that was rightfully theirs. In this work by Diego Rivera, we see Zapata, an intense leader with large mustache and furrowed brow.

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  • Fabric, From Flat To Fabulous

    Take a length of fabric. Fold it or twist it. Pinch it or stretch it. With these simple moves, cloth that once lay flat on a table can be transformed into ingenious three-dimensional structures. Just look at the work of painter Frans Hals and textile artist Annet Couwenberg, separated by almost 400 years.

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  • Horse Power

    Raymond Duchamp-Villon was well acquainted with horses. He observed horses closely, drew many pictures, built clay models, and studied photographs of horses in full gallop. Why then did he create a sculpture that looks nothing like the flesh-and-blood horses he knew so well?

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  • Painting With Paper

    Mark Bradford describes this work, "My Grandmother Felt the Color," as a painting, but there is no paint to be found anywhere on this canvas.

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  • A Toast to the Toaster!

    Encased in shiny chrome, with decorative fluting on each side and plastic handles that stayed cool to the touch, the Toastmaster Toaster by the Waters-Genter Company was the image of modernism.

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  • The Face of a Pharaoh

    About 3,200 years ago, an Egyptian stone carver used hand tools to cut into hard granite and create an image of the pharaoh, Ramesses II (1303–1213 bce). He and other artisans had been charged with producing relief sculpture for the facades of buildings in the pharaoh’s city.

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  • Flowers and Prayers

    Flowers burst with color on this richly embroidered prayer mat or hanging from Central Asia.

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  • Same and Different

    If you want to understand one picture, try looking at two. “Compare and Contrast” is a tried-and-true method for looking carefully at works of art that have something in common. Here are two images of women, one drawn by French artist Henri Matisse and the other drawn forty years later by an American artist whom he inspired, Richard Diebenkorn.

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  • One Jar, Three Cultures

    The jar is called an amphora—a tall container with an oval body and handles on either side of a long, slender neck. In ancient Greece, huge numbers of amphoras were produced in clay. Some were beautifully painted with scenes of gods, goddesses, and athletes. But most remained plain and were used for storing or transporting water, wine, oil, olives, and grains.

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  • Two Views from Above

    Different as they are, both of these paintings employ a high vantage point to provide an unobstructed view. Henri Matisse’s composition of river, bridge, and cathedral is a simplified version of what he could actually see from his window. Richard Diebenkorn, however, took greater liberties with reality as he reimagined and restructured his scene.

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  • Signs of Royalty

    Long ago, the African land that we know today as Nigeria was divided into many kingdoms. The Kingdom of Benin was ruled by powerful obas who lived in the royal palace in Benin City. When one oba reached the end of his life, his eldest son traditionally took his place as the new ruler. One of the first duties of the new oba was to ask palace artists to cast a bronze head in memory of his father.

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  • TV Robots

    Years ago, before digital devices were everywhere, Nam June Paik was hard at work in a studio piled high with old television sets. He wasn’t watching TV shows. He was busy dismantling the sets and altering their picture tubes and wiring, figuring out ways to use old TVs to create a new kind of electronic sculpture that nobody had thought of before.

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  • A Woman, a Dog, and a Basket of Fruit

    At a table in Pierre Bonnard’s dining room, we see a woman, a dog, and a handbasket with green stripes. The woman is Marthe, the artist’s longtime companion.

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  • Four Prestigious Hats

    Why do we wear hats? To be sure, they keep us warm and dry and protect us from rain, snow, cold winds, and burning sun. But hats may also be helpful in ways that have nothing to do with the weather. The bird feathers, snail shells, elaborate needlework, and shiny bits of metal displayed on these four hats from Africa reveal that they were prestigious items, worn by prominent dignitaries, chiefs, and kings.

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  • Burning Issues

    On the great plains of the American Midwest, wheat fields stretch out as far as the eye can see. Come harvest time, the wheat is cut down, leaving orderly rows of stiff, useless stalks, or “stubble.” On a clear day in 1992, a wall of orange flames lit up the horizon where land meets sky. The fire advanced across the flat fields, consuming everything in its path while making the blue sky dirty with smoke. Photographer Larry Schwarm was out on the prairie that day, recording the sight with his camera.

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  • Sitting Still

    It’s not easy to sit absolutely still. We wiggle, we squirm, we get distracted. But in Buddhist belief, Guanyin sits quietly day after day, listening to all the sounds of the world.

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  • Medusa at the Door

    If you like snakes and grisly tales, you may already know about a monster named Medusa. Some say she was hideously ugly; others say she was beautiful. But all agree that her head was covered with hissing snakes instead of hair. Anyone who dared to gaze upon her face would suddenly turn to stone.

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  • Making Old Into New

    During the late 1880s, popular ladies’ magazines featured illustrations of fashionable “crazy quilts,” which were made of oddly-shaped patches sewn every which way instead of lining up in neat rows or patterns.

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  • Balance of Power

    One wears red pants, the other wears blue. One looks forward, the other looks back. Despite their differences, these two long-armed, thicknecked wrestlers with enormous hands appear equally matched as they confront each other atop a headdress made of wood. Below, the face of a woman with wide-open eyes and a gentle smile appears unperturbed by the activity overhead. Her cheeks are marked with three scarification lines that identify her as one of the Yoruba people of Benin, West Africa.

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  • Acrobats and the Afterlife

    Children everywhere enjoy the feeling of throwing their feet into the air and standing upside down on their hands for a moment or two, whether on soft grass or a smooth floor. But these two acrobats, about four inches tall, practice their handstands on the thin rim of a clay vessel nearly 2,000 years old. The tradition of Chinese acrobatics developed more than 2,000 years ago.

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  • An Eye for Pattern

    Somewhere along a riverbank in northern France, a group of trees caught the eye of artist Hale Woodruff.

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  • Super Small Sculptures from Africa

    In parts of West Africa, people speak of Sankofa, a bird that stretches its long neck and turns its head backward in order to see what has happened in the past. For the Akan people of Ghana and Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Sankofa teaches a valuable lesson. “Pay attention to history,” it seems to say. “Learn from experience and let hindsight be your guide. Honor tradition as you move forward.” A popular Akan proverb puts it this way: When it lies behind you, take it.

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  • Ferns for the Parlor

    A plain glass container and a bit of soil are all you really need to build a terrarium. But perhaps you’d like something more elegant? This gilded terrarium, perched atop four lively cast iron legs, would have been a showpiece in a 19th-century English or American parlor. Collecting and displaying ferns became a national pastime, thanks to a simple glass box invented by a fern-loving doctor named Nathaniel Ward.

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  • A Nursery Rhyme in the Round

    Mealtimes become more fun when familiar characters from nursery rhymes or other stories appear on a treasured cup or bowl. The little boy or girl who drank milk from this silver cup was probably born into a well-to-do family that served elegant dinners on silver platters and poured tea from silver teapots. While those platters and teapots might have been decorated with the kind of twisting vines and gorgeous flowers that appeal to grownups, this child’s cup by silversmith Albert Southwick was enlivened with pictures of Old King Cole and his fiddlers three.

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  • A Gentlemanly Pose

    Striking a gentlemanly pose with his hand tucked into his waistcoat, Lemuel Cox presents himself as a self-assured Bostonian in this painting by John Singleton Copley.

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  • A Tugboat with Eyes

    Many boats have names, just like people, but there’s something unusual about this little tugboat named Bessie. As we peek into her brightly lit windows, she seems to be peering back at us. Her cabin door is exactly where a mouth might be. Her bright green pipe looks a bit like a bent nose, and her bow juts out over the water like an enormous chin. In 1932 when Arthur Dove painted The Bessie of New York, Walt Disney had just begun producing animated films. Perhaps the artist was having fun making Bessie look as alive as a boat in a cartoon.

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