Africa Unmasked commemorates sixty-five years of African art collecting and exhibiting at the Toledo Museum of Art. Featuring sixteen exemplary works, ranging from the oldest to the most recent acquisitions, the display invites viewers to appreciate the permanent collection as both an example of African innovation and as an outgrowth of evolving European-American ideas about African culture. The display reckons with the past, wrestles with the present, and posits a future in which the total creative genius of the continent is pieced together again. Kushite and contemporary works juxtapose 18th through 21st century sculptures, textiles, and paintings to capture and reflect the continent as a dynamic field of artistic mastery from north to south, from antiquity to our current time.
The works on view embody indigenous cultural values and aesthetic principles expressed through scale, form, and material. The sculptures accentuate the human body, notably the head, which is widely appreciated as the essence of being; the connective tissue between humankind and God; and as both a symbolic and metaphysical manifestation of the soul throughout West and Central Africa - where representative works in the collection are strongest. The paintings and textiles mirror emphasis on the human form through suggestive lines, colors, and patterns. Whether figurative or abstract, utilitarian or zoomorphic, the works on view evoke the beauty, richness, and diversity of African creative practice across time and space. Africa Unmasked aims for viewers to see power in place of primitivism, intention in place of inferiority, mastery and rich meaning in place of mediocrity.