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African Art

VMFA’s collection of African art, regarded as one of the most comprehensive in the United States, features figures, masks, textiles, regalia, and ritual objects from more than 100 cultures throughout the continent. The collection presents a coherent, broad-based view of the arts and cultural history in Africa from the first millennium BC to the present day.

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VMFA’s collection of the arts of Africa provides insight into a cultural mosaic and forms of artistic expression spanning from antiquity to present day. In the galleries, ensembles of related works portraying key cultural and historic narratives are stressed rather than being isolated from cultural context. The collection includes approximately 1,200 works representing the diverse historic arts of the continent. Contemporary art and works representing the Colonial and post-Independence periods have become areas of focus.

Conservation Initiative in African Art

The Conservation Initiative in African Art, funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a dynamic curator-conservator partnership bringing together technical analysis, curatorial research, and specialist consultants to discover methods of assembly, applied and embedded materials, and modifications with use. These studies contribute to a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the works in the VMFA collection and to the greater depth of knowledge about African art.

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African Art Videos

Esther Mahlangu @ VMFA

South African Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu discusses the early years of her paining practice, her designs and pigments, and the preservation of culture in this talk at VMFA. The conversation includes Esther Mahlangu, Marriam Mahlangu, Grace Masango, and Richard Woodward (Curator of African Art).

Time-lapse of Esther Mahlangu @ VMFA

Ester Mahlangu, Artist in Residence at VMFA in the fall of 2014, works in the traditional Ndebele style of bold, geometric patterns executed on a very large scale. In the late-nineteenth century, the Ndebele women painted the exteriors of their houses in this style as an expression of identity and pride. Over the years, with the development of commercial paints, the original earth tones created from natural pigments have changed to a brighter palette. Mahlangu is the first woman and only non-Westerner to paint one of the BMW Art Cars, following in the footsteps of the likes of Warhol and Lichtenstein. As the artist climbed scaffolding and painted without a straight edge of any sort, these large works of art evolved before visitors’ eyes over the course of a month.

Radcliffe Bailey @ VMFA

Artist Radcliffe Bailey talks about his artistic process and what he hopes his art conveys. Come see "Vessel" in VMFA's permanent collection.