From shrine figures to palace pillars to historic men’s masks, the MFA’s department of African and Oceanic art includes important works from the 16th to 21st century that span two continents. These collections are the newest additions to the MFA’s world-class holdings and adhere to the Museum’s provenance policies.
Art of Africa
The collection of African art includes bronze altarpieces, relief plaques, and regalia from the Kingdom of Benin, in present-day Nigeria. The Benin bronzes stand as one of the most celebrated traditions on the continent; they are also the subject of global debate. In the MFA’s Benin Kingdom Gallery, the bronzes are presented in collaboration with the Coalition of Committed Benin Community Organizations, an organization selected by the late Oba, or king, Erediauwa (r. 1979–2016) to work with the Museum on the palace’s behalf. Fine Yoruba sculptures, also from royal courts in Nigeria, include pieces by master artists Olowe of Ise and Agbonbiofe. Decorative arts, including clothing, headrests, staffs, and tableware, introduce visitors to the art of everyday life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Masks and artworks used in dance give a glimpse into the multimedia performance art tradition of masquerade. A collection of metalwork, from anklets and necklaces to sculptural knives and swords, lies at the intersection of art and function.
Arts of the Pacific
The MFA’s Oceanic collection includes works reflecting traditions that stretch from Indonesia to New Zealand and Hawaii. Three guardian figures from Borneo are the highlight of the Museum’s collection of commemorative sculpture. A Maori funnel, used to feed a chief during the sacred and physically challenging process of tattooing, is one of the Museum’s finest pieces, admired for the complex decorative patterns carved skillfully into its surface. The first kakaparaga funerary mask to have left Papua New Guinea, one of many striking masks in the collection, invites visitors to consider the movement of art objects through the world—especially the problematic history of trade and exchange that brought this and similar pieces to the United States. Arts of the late 20th century are also represented in the collection. Fernando Cueto Amorsolo’s Man with Rooster (1948), on view in the MFA’s Arts of the Pacific Gallery, is one of the only paintings by Amorsolo, a master of Filipino modernism, exhibited in the United States.
The department of African and Oceanic art continues to grow its collection in accordance with the MFA’s acquisitions and provenance policy and statement on colonialism, which are widely considered among the strictest policies in the museum sector.