Birmingham Museum of Art to Open Renovated African Galleries

/ Collections - Press Release

Plank Mask (nwententay), Late 20th century, Yacouba Bonde, Bwa people, Village of Boni, Burkina Faso. Wood, natural pigments. Museum purchase with funds provided by Martha Pezrow. 2004.54
Plank Mask nwententay Late 20th century Yacouba Bonde Bwa people Village of Boni Burkina Faso Wood natural pigments Museum purchase with funds provided by Martha Pezrow 200454

After two years of renovations, the Birmingham Museum of Art reopens its African galleries on Saturday, April 26.

“Over the past several decades, the Birmingham Museum of Art has built an exceptional collection of African art, one that beautifully reflects the ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity of the many regions in Africa,” say Gail Andrew, R. Hugh Daniel Director of the Birmingham Museum of Art. “The new geographic orientation of the gallery created by Dr. Hanna underscores the vast and distinctive art forms that have existed in Africa for thousands of years and those which are being developed today. The gallery offers visitors the opportunity to explore the collection in an entirely new way.”

The renovated gallery space features many changes in the presentation of the collection. The collection is now organized geographically, grouping works from the same regions. Large maps, located throughout the gallery, will assist visitors in easily locating the origin of a particular work. The space will also be equipped with a large flat screen, designed to enhance the gallery experience by featuring supplemental media such as documentary footage of art in production and contemporary art composed digitally. In addition, the Museum has collaborated with Jefferson County teachers to develop an interactive African Proverbs project, which will reveal to visitors the relationship between proverbs and art in Africa.

“Africa is a continent of enormous diversity, home to over fifty countries, and hundreds of ethnic groups, cultures, languages, religions, and traditions. Our gallery is now organized in a way that celebrates this wide-ranging, but interconnected expanse of African art across the continent,” says Emily Hanna, Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Americas. “In the gallery, I’ve created a very vibrant, engaging space that includes more of our collection, including textiles, clothing, jewelry, and large color photographs that show objects being used or worn. Visitors will appreciate the new design features as they trace their way through history and the magnificent art of Africa. ”

The African collection at the Birmingham Museum of Art comprises more than 1,600 objects from across the continent of Africa. The collection represents all major regions and artistic styles from 1500 BC forward. The works of art include masks, figure sculpture, textiles, ceramics, household and ritual objects, jewelry, musical instruments, currencies, furniture, clothing, and costume. The first part of the gallery renovation was completed in 2013 and resulted in a space for the display of the Museum’s impressive collection of African ceramics.

To celebrate the gallery’s reopening, the Museum will host a lecture by renowned African art scholar, Dr. Babatunde Lawal, on Friday, April 25 at 6pm. Entitled Mediating and Ennobling the Soul: Tradition and Change in Yoruba Art, the talk will focus on the cultural and spiritual significance of art among the Yoruba of Nigeria, contemporary movements in Yoruba art, and the Yoruba influence on the arts of the African Diaspora. Lawal is a Professor of African, African American and African Diaspora Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. His books include The Gèlèdé Spectacle: Art, Gender and Social Harmony in an African Culture (1996), Embodying the Sacred in Yoruba Art (2007), and Yoruba: Vision of Africa Series (2012).

A reception immediately follows the lecture, and will include a drumming performance by Osumare African Drum & Dance Ensemble, Afro beat music by DJ Drew, and light refreshments.

About the Birmingham Museum ofArt: Founded in 1951, the Birmingham Museum ofArt has one ofthe finest collections in the Southeast. More than 24,000 objects displayed and housed within the Museum represent a rich panorama ofcultures, including Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian, and Native American. Highlights include the Museum’s collection ofAsian art, Vietnamese ceramics, the Kress collection ofRenaissance and Baroque paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts from the late 13th century to the 1750s, and the Museum’s world-renowned collection ofWedgwood, the largest outside ofEngland.