In celebration of our 30th anniversary year, we are revisiting one of the Bermuda National Gallery’s inaugural collections in The African Collection: Our People, Our Places, Our Stories.
African Art was first displayed at the Bermuda National Gallery in 1993, shortly after the gallery opened its doors, in Secrecy: African Art that Conceals and Reveals, a travelling exhibition from the Museum of African Art, New York (now The Africa Centre), curated Dr Mary Nooter Roberts (1959-2018). Following the success of the exhibition, funds were raised to purchase a
permanent collection of African art for the gallery.
The African Collection, one of the Bermuda National Gallery’s three permanent collections (alongside the European Collection and the Bermuda Collection) was purchased in 1996 by the people of Bermuda through a crowdfunding campaign which saw community organisations, corporations and individuals come together to invest in the cultural heritage of Bermuda’s African diaspora.
Dr Roberts returned to Bermuda in 1996 to curate Celebration: The African Collection, held to mark the opening of BNG’s permanent African Collection. The collection consists of 37 works, representing 22 peoples from 12 countries in sub-Saharan west Africa, which range from ritual sculpture to masks, functional objects and textiles.
Produced in the 1940s and 1950s, the artworks are contemporary iterations of an ancient lineage of performance and belief systems. As Dr Roberts, who is regarded as one of the foremost scholars of African art, once said of her chosen specialty: “They are objects of aesthetic brilliance and achievement made by artists, but they were made for other purposes: for education, or healing, or governance, or spiritual mediation. (…) They are more than art.”
Alongside the collection, we are presenting a selection of striking works by French documentary photographer and film director Catherine de Clippel who has been recording the ritual practices of West Africa since the 1980s. The photographs illustrate several of the masks on display being used in ritual ceremonies and capture the distinctive mud architecture of Djenné and M’Pessoba that serve as the backdrop for many of the customs.
The African Collection: Our People, Our Places, Our Stories is sponsored by the Christian Humann Foundation. The exhibition is on display in the Humann and Young Galleries from February until May 28.
Visit The African Collection: Our People, Our Places, Our Stories in our virtual tour: