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African Tribal Sculptures

Modern Western culture owes a spiritual debt to the tribal societies of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Their arts have broadly and profoundly enriched the vocabulary of twenty-first century painting and sculpture. The direct influence of tribal art on modern Western artists has been more extensive and more important than was previously recognized as many of the most important influences of tribal art are “invisible,” in the sense that we would not recognize them without the modern artist’s prompting.
Picasso himself said that the protruding cylinder representing the sound hole in his 1912 Guitar was inspired by the rimmed cylindrical eyes of African (Grebo) masks he owned. Modern re-proportioning of figures has also gone hand in hand with the awareness of tribal art since Picasso and Matisse began taking broad liberties in their paintings. Such “distortions” are commonly depicted by modern Expressionist artists.

Most tribal sculptures are made of wood because of the abundance and flexibility of the material and also because bronze and brass were typically regarded as semi precious metals by African societies. Objects made from these metals were considered a status symbol of the wealthy. African sculptors practiced a “direct” method of carving with remarkable vision of their end product even before beginning with the first cut.

Tribal masks are an important part of ceremonial costume. It is believed that when the elements of costume, dance and music are present, the mask comes to life and is inhabited by a spirit. The Rosenberg Library’s collection of African Tribal Art was donated by two parties, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Cole and Mr. and Mrs. Gary Goodrich, in 1986.