From bronze altarpieces to palace 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 bronze altarpieces, palace 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. 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 to the early 20th centuries. Masks and artworks used in dance give a glimpse into the multi-media 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.
The newly installed Art of the Pacific gallery includes art traditions stretching 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 best pieces. Striking masks, including the first kakaparaga funerary mask collected by a museum, invite the visitor to consider art that moves. 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.