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National Museum of African Art Statement Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue

The National Museum of African Art’s mission is to inspire conversations about the beauty, power and diversity of African arts and cultures. We began planning for the Conversations exhibition two years ago to help showcase the history of American art created by persons of African descent. It brings the public’s attention to artists whose works have long been omitted from the study of American art history. We are aware of the controversy surrounding Bill Cosby, who, along with his wife Camille, owns many of the works in the Conversations exhibition. Exhibiting this important collection does not imply any position on the serious allegations that have been made against Mr. Cosby. The exhibition is centrally about the artworks and the artists who created them.

50 Years of African Art in the Capital.
The piece that started it all.

Edo artist, Nigeria Shrine figure (ikegobo)

Edo artist, Nigeria
Shrine figure (ikegobo)
Early to mid‑20th century
Wood
36.2 x 24.5 x 22 cm (14 1/4 x 9 5/8 x 8 11/16 in.)
Gift of Harold Rome, 63‑1‑1


The first object in the museum’s collection was an ikegobo, or “shrine of the hand,” which honors the hard-earned accomplishments of a lifetime. With the gift of this ikegobo, founding director Warren M. Robbins launched a museum—our museum—that is now home to more than 12,000 artworks. Carved in relief along the cylindrical form of this ikegobo are a warrior, attendants, and a symbolic hand gathering up wealth that is shown palm out, fingers folded down, and thumb extended. Its carved base is now missing.