For over sixty years, Mrs. Geneviève McMillan, a Cambridge resident, has collected African and Oceanic art, a lifelong passion that began when she was student in Paris during World War II. The more than one hundred objects in this exhibition, ranging from sculptures to textiles to musical instruments, moved through many hands: some were collected in the field by their future owners (including Mrs. McMillan herself); others passed through Paris, Brussels, and New York, hubs of the international art trade; and still others arrived directly in Cambridge with African merchants who helped locate objects for sale. African objects featured in this exhibition include an ancient reliquary figure made by artists of the Kota peoples in Gabon, two important masks from the Yaka peoples in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a terracotta vessel from the Asante peoples in Ghana. Among the works from Oceania are a bark cloth mask from the Baining peoples who live on island of New Britain, and a model boat from the Solomon Islands.
This exhibition highlights not only the beauty and function of these works, but also traces their voyages and focuses on the social, political, and commercial forces that accompanied collecting in the second half of the twentieth century. In considering these issues, the exhibition evokes the choices of a pioneering collector and casts light on the more general processes of producing, interpreting, and collecting African and Oceanic artworks in the modern world. It also celebrates Mrs. McMillan’s generous gift of the works on display and many others to the Museum.