In keeping with the history of African art collecting practices, this collection is rooted in traditional media such as wood, metal, and textiles and derives from established creative traditions. However, many works from the NCMA African collection date from the mid-20th century to the present and give insights into global exchanges that have taken place on the continent for centuries. For example, the spectacular Yoruba egungun masquerade costumes are made from an array of fabrics, including many imported from Europe and dating to the 1930s. The Asafo Society flag from Ghana, with its prominent Union Jack, marks a history of the British presence, while other works feature mirrors, buttons, or beads obtained through global trade. A defining acquisition of the collection is Skunder Boghossian’s Night Flight of Dread and Delight (1964), the first piece of modern/contemporary art by an African artist collected by the Museum.
The African collection is unbound, inviting conversations across cultural zones. Stylistic boundaries can be quite fluid within African regions, and throughout history political borders have shifted—in Africa and elsewhere. As a result people of different ethnicities are frequently on the move rather than tied to a particular region. Visitors are encouraged to consider the meaning, significance, use, and stylistic trends seen among works both within this gallery and across NCMA collections.