Virginia Museum of Fine Arts African Art Collection

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts collection of African art is regarded as one of the strongest in the United States.

More than 100 cultures are represented through some 500 works that span 2,000 years. The collection features figures, masks, textiles, regalia, and ritual objects of superior aesthetic quality and importance.


Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

To provide a coherent and broad-based view of the continent’s artistic and cultural history, the collection includes both core, or defining, styles of African art and more unique and rare works. Its makeup includes groups of closely related works from several prominent cultures – focus areas that make the collection a rich and articulate resource concerning Africa’s cultural and artistic heritage. For example works of art from Mali, a country studied as part of the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL), form a significant resource for classrooms throughout the state. Other focus areas include the Yoruba of Nigeria and Benin, the Akan of Ghana, the Dan of Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, the Kongo, Songye, Luba, and Lega, of the Congo, and the closely related cultural clusters in Burkina Faso and in the grasslands region of Cameroon. Richard B. Woodward, curator, has guided the collection since its inception in 1977.

Several hundred works have recently been added to the collection since the former gallery closed during the museum’s expansion project. Many of these works will be featured in the new and expanded gallery opening Feb 12, 2011. The new gallery will have 50 per cent more floor space than the former installation.

New dimensions brought to the collection by the recent acquisitions include:

• Broadened representation of the Sahara region and the dramatic masking traditions of the Mali and Burkina Faso.
• Remarkable works from Ghana’s Akan culture, including kente cloth, goldweights, and a royal stool, raising this area to major status.
• Important gifts and purchases of Kuba (Congo) royal regalia, elevating the art of the Kuba culture to a major section in the collection.
• Key acquisitions of Luba and Songye sculpture from the central Congo. These important cultures now form one of the strongest segments of the collection.
• Significant representation of East African art, especially cultures in Kenya and Tanzania.

VMFA is a state-supported, privately endowed educational institution created for the benefit of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its purpose is to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret art, to encourage the study of the arts, and thus to enrich the lives of all.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts 200 N. Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23220-4007 804.340.1400

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