Man Carving a Stool with an Adze
Mangbetu peoples, Democratic Republic of theCongo
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1970
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
Philip Ravenhill, curator
The phrase "African art," often elicits thoughts of anthropomorphic sculpture and masks made of wood. This is not an inappropriate response, for African artists have produced countless masterworks of three-dimensional figurative sculpture. If, however, one thinks of other elements of visual culture, that is to say other forms that are readily accessible for visual examination and appreciation, then one also begins to consider notions of design-the artful design of utilitarian forms.
This exhibition celebrates the creativity of African artists who have made utilitarian objects of great beauty. Made to fulfill a specific function, each object was also skillfully conceived to provoke visual and tactile delight. Collectively, these are objects that were meant to be both used and seen.
The inventiveness found in these objects is both cultural and individual. In a specific culture, for example, a type of stool may have evolved over time, and there may be clear standards for the design and crafting of stools. It is the artist, however, who translates the received grammar of form into a specific object. Although working within a tradition, he or she may change tradition and cultural ideals by innovation, modification, or further refinement of the form.
Many of the objects on display were carved from wood. In much of Africa, the tool of choice for carving is the adze. The adze is used for carving masks and statuettes, as well as bowls, spoons, stools, and other objects of use.
The carver at work demonstrates total artistic concentration as he reveals the form that exists in his mind's eye. One hand swings the adze repeatedly; the other hand continually repositions the wood to align its surface for each successive cut. The clarity of artistic vision is matched by the sureness of the artist's hands.
This exhibition is in praise of the artist's vision and the work of his hands.
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