Art Review: "Art/Object: Re-Contextualizing African Art"


Through Jan. 17 at Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission (at Third St.), S.F. $5-$10 (ages 12 and under free); 358-7200 or

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Go to any major U.S. museum with African art and it's likely the exhibit features masks by themselves, behind glass, with a few words about each mask's origin and year of creation. Nothing wrong with that — except that the big picture is missing. The masks were undoubtedly part of a ceremony culture, worn by people in elaborate costumes who were honoring elders or the spirit world, trying to influence a harvest, or performing some other elaborate role. At the Museum of the African Diaspora, all these parts — masks, costumes, social context — are put on display, making the art objects come alive with meaning and feeling. Sculptures, dolls, and other objects are also returned to their original settings and connected to larger communities that stress beauty and ritual in everyday lives. Curators complete the exhibition with photographs and videos, one of which (Coming of Age in Africa: Initiation in the Bwa Village of Dossi) is 50 minutes long. Visitors will see African art — and Africa itself — in a completely new light.

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