Art of Africa and Oceania

From bronze altarpieces to palace courtyard pillars to historic men’s masks, the growing MFA collection of African and Pacific art includes masterpieces from the 16th to 20th centuries. These collections are the newest addition to the MFA’s world-class holdings, and include significant artworks in abstract and realistic styles.

The African galleries include a selection of bronze and ivory artworks from the Kingdom of Benin, in present-day Nigeria, one of the most celebrated traditions on the continent. Fine Yoruba artworks, also from Nigeria, include pieces by master artists Olowe of Ise and Agbonbiofe. Inventive decorative arts, including headrests, staffs, and tableware, introduce visitors to the art of everyday life on the continent during the late 19th to early 20th centuries. A collection of metalwork, from anklets and necklaces to sculptural knives and swords, lies at the intersection of art and function.

The newly installed Art of the Pacific gallery includes sculpture, textiles and paintings stretching from Indonesia to New Zealand and Hawaii. Three guardian figures, once placed outside villages on the island of Borneo, are the highlight of the Museum’s collection of architectural sculpture. A Maori feeding funnel, used to feed a chief during the sacred and physically challenging process of tattooing, is one of the Museum’s best pieces. Its complex whorls of pattern surround human figures, delighting the eye. Striking masks, including the first kakaparaga funerary mask collected by a museum, invite the visitor to consider art that moves. Intricate textiles from the region are rotated every six months to provide new opportunities to see exemplary Pacific Islands weaving. Arts of the late 20th century are also included in the gallery. Man with Rooster, by Fernando Cueto Amorsolo, is one of the only paintings exhibited in the United States by this master of Filipino modernism.