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Art Gallery the Eye and the Hand

Image 1923 - Brooklyn museum

This is a copy of the catalogue of the exhibition of 1923 in Brooklyn Museum, In 1903 Stewart Culin became the founding curator of the department of ethnology at the museum of the Brooklyn institute of arts and sciences, now the Brooklyn museum Culin a self taught ethnologist built the foundation of four curatorial collections for the museum, acquiring objects representing African Asian native American and estaern European culture


Culin was among the first curator to recognize museum installation as an art form, he was also among the first to display ethnological as art objects, not as ethnographic specimens. This approach is evidenced in his exhibition “primitive negro art”


The exhibition opened in april 1923 and displayed African objects he had acquired in Europe from dealers. Along with his colleagues Culin set the parameters for cultural representation in museum through his collection decisions and innovative installations.




The collection here displayed, the property of the brooklyn museum and procured by the writer in Europe in the years 1921, and 1922, represents more or less completly the arts and industries of the negro tribes of central america.


Derived in greater part from the Belgian congo, it consists chiefly of the work of the Bushongo à great tribes with many subdivisions, living in the west central Africa between the Sankuru and the kasai rivers and between four degrees and five degrees south of the equator. The Bushongo have a high artistic sense and are the most advanced in the arts, especially those of wood carving and weaving of all the American natives.


The objects comprise sculpture in wood , and ivory, textiles basketry and metal work, masks and fetiches used in religious ceremonial musical instruments games boards tobacco pipes weapons furniture and utensils with closing and objects of personal adornment.


The entire collection whatever may have been its original uses , is shown under the classification of art, as representing, a creative impulse, and not for the purpose of illustrating the customs of the African people; as art it may be considered as inspired by fresh and direct observation of nature. It is this which gives it much of its peculiar interest and value, and it is this which explain, the influence negro art is having upon our own art as intimated in the work of many recent painters and sculptors.


Of all the exotic arts, indeed , from which our world is seeking stimulation the writer regards it as the most vital far outclassing that of Polynesia with which it has affinities, the first notables appreciation of the esthetic value of negro sculpture, the form in which this art finds its most obvious expression occurred some seventeen years ago in Paris among a small society of amateurs : collectors sculptors and painters. From Paris the interest extended to Germany, and subsequently trough the efforts of one or two individuals to America. The expression of this appreciation has been confined to artists. Apart from private exhibitions designated as artistic , te objects of negro art which are displayed publicly form part of museum collections of African ethnology and receive no special attention at the ands of ethnologists. The most notable is in the museum of the Congo at Tervuren,.


Enormous collection, exists also in the museum of ethnology of Berlin and other German cities, in london in the british museum in Paris at the trocadero and in America in Washington, Philadelphia, Cambridge, Chicago and in new York where the museum of natural history contains a vast hall of African ethnology, in part derived from the Belgian congo and presented by H.M the king of Belgians. In the majority of these collections their artistic significance is obscured by the wealth of material and lost not infrequently, in the effort made for its elucidation.


The existing publications dealing directly with the subject of negro art have all proceeded, from the little group of amateurs and artists. They occupy a place apart from the scientific literature, of African ethnology and travel to which the most important contribution has been made by the museum of the Congo at Tervuren.


The art oh the negro as displayed in the present and other similar collections is remarkably homogenious and free from evidences of foreighn influence. Although the arabs and portugese have penetrated the country for several centuries and many objects exists which may be accredited to them the native form of expression has been, little modified.


The art of the negro hhas no chronology nor can we say the objects exhibited be new or old. While their patterns seems to date from the beginning of time it may be assumed that for the most part the things themselves are of very recent manufactures.


Whatever may be their age it is obvious , they are the product of a living art an exceptional amazing living art with nothing that is mortuary and all instinct with life with human life too, for its elemental forms are almost exclusively anthropomorphic. Wild animal occur and rarely birds and reptiles but plants never.


Direct confirmation of what is here asserted is to be found in the way in which this art excites the activities of those come under its influence. First shown among the painters and sculptors of the new school in france it stirs all who understand it. Direct evidence of this stimulation not only of the pictorials artys but of hundred activities are to be found in the new textiles and furnitures which grace the present exhibition.




The writers desires to express his acknowledgments to the baron d’Hauteville, the director and DR Joseph Maes curator of ethnology of the museum of the Congo at Tervuren for much valued assistance as well as to Louis CC Clarke curator of the university museum of Cambridge , and to Captain T.A Joyce of the british museum, for their unfailing and stimulating interest. tHis Aknowledgment also are due Mr Paul Guillaume of Paris and Mr W.O Oldman of Brixton, , London for aid in securing many important specimen to Mr M.C.D Crawford, the design editor of the Fairchild publications, for his early and constant encouragement of the writer’s effort and to Mr Felix Meyer of Blanck & Co, Inc, who designed and manufactured the Congo cloth employed by bonwit teller & co in the new costumes which are here displayed.


The cover design of this catalogue is by the artist MR H.B Tschudy acting curator of fine arts and the new furniture was made in the museum by the master cabinet maker, John Bender attached to the institution.


The following is a list of some recent and easily-procurable publications, not including those on Benin which treat of negro art.


H Clouzot and A Level : l’art nègre et l’art océanien, Paris, 1919; l’art du Congo Belge, art et decoration, Paris, 1921


Carl Einstein : Africanische plastik, Berlin ; Negreplastik , Munich, 1920


P.C Lepage: la décoration primitive; Afrique, Paris


M. de Zayas : African Negro art ; its influence of modern art, N-Y-C, 1916


For detailed informations concerning the native peoples of the Belgian Congo , the inquier is referred to the superb monographs, published by the museum of the Congo at Tervuren, especially the work on religion, in which the fetishes in the Congo Museum are illustrated and described and the work on the Bushongo from which most of the information here presented derived.




The art of wood carving, is highly esteemed among the Bushongo and sculptors in wood old a higher place in the court, than the representatives of the other bodies of craftsmen. An intimate relation exists the textile and carving industries for not only is the form of many of the carved boxes borrowed from basketry but the carved wood itself is ornamented with textiles patterns.


Wood is the material employed ordinarily by the negro carver but we find also sculptures in ivory, horn and stone, the human figure being a favorite motive. Objects of carved wood exist in the greatest variety and display their highest artistic perfection in the portraits statues, the mask and fetish images and other objects in which the human form is portrayed. Of these the portrait statues of the Bushongo kings of which examples exist at Tervueren and in the British Museum are the finest and most notable. Although their forms ave been simplified and conventionalized, unlike the surving Egyptian statues which are mortuary, they have all the qualities of life. The fetish-image, wich are much further conventionalized, are represented with what are considered to be their vital organs, and are animated by the insertion of magic substances in a hole in their navel or the crown of their head.


The principal objects of the wood carver’s art are the boxes used to contain the oleaginous red paint made of powered ngula wood which is employed to decorate the skin and the cups for drinking palm wine. The boxes are of various shapes : rectangular , semi lunar, and in the form of a half circle and are covered with textile patterns. These patterns are also found on the drinking cups, some of which are handled mugs, while others are gobelets, carved frequently to represent a man’s head.


Palm wine, obtained from the raffia is a common beverage of these tribes. Certain privileged persons drink it from buffalo horns carved in high relief. Small mortars for snuff are carved like the paint boxes and carved boxes, with cords for suspension are used to carry snuff.


A notable specimen of the latter in the present collection is in the form of an elderly woman presumably a portrait, seated in a chair. Tobacco pipes are carved elaborately in human likeness. The human figure is used also as a support for stools and pillows. The people sit generally on mats, but the chief have chairs, copied, evidently, from European, which are carved elaborately and of which interesting examples are exhibited. The ceremonial canes and staves surmounted with human figures are notable.


Among personal adornments are wooden combs and hair pins. The musical instruments :  drums, harps, flutes, bells and rattles, afford many examples of the wood carvers art. Tool and weapon handles, game boards food dishes, canoes and paddles display the same vigorous and original treatment. Ivory carving is confined to trumpets, small festishes and objects of personal adornment such as combs, hair, pins and bracelets, while sculpture in stone appears to be of recent foreign introduction and to copy the technique of the wood carver.


The old ivory carvings are in general more highly conventionalized than those in wood, a notable exception being the figure of a woman illustrated in this catalogue which appears to have been executed from life.




The Bantu, the race to which the majority of the peoples of the congo belong, believe generally in the existence of a supreme being, the creator of all things, eternal and incapable of doing evil. They think however that he is so highly placed and remote that e is not concerned with the affairs of his people. They believe however that he is the author of many special subsidiary beings, a kind of vicars, having great power but not creative. These alone have relations with mortals and are able to communicate their power, both to living being and to inanimate objects. These intermediary spirits are regarded as malignant and interesting themselves in man affairs, the cause of all his misfortunes. In consequence of this belief , the native propitiate or threaten effigies christened with the name of this spirit.


Such fetishes may be divided into three general classes : first, those which cause sickness and trouble, and belong to an official person as a chief or a sorcerer; next the familiars the protectors of the house or of the person and third those whose activities extend to all of the inhabitants of a village. When a man, quits his father’s house he goes to a feticheur to procure a fetish of the second kind which he sets up in a corner of his own dwelling. To it he makes offering of food. It is nearly always, interred with its possessor. Fetishes are frequently kept in miniature houses erected for their shelter.


The material of the fetish image may be wood, ivory, horn, stone or clay, but the greater part are of wood, carved from a single block and display frequently great artistic sentiment. They represent always a man or a woman or a monstrous animal. The human fetishes represent either with people to whom special supernatural power are attributed and who are always represented as clothed and blacks who always nude appear; They are painted like the masks with colors that hhave a ritual significance, the commonest being red for which ngula, powdered red sandalwood, and white for which white clay , pembe, is employed.


There is a general tendency to exaggeration and simplification in the human form, and a marked tendency to deform the lower limbs. Some of the images are bisexual. Attention is paid to the coiffure and tatooage, means of distinguishing the different tribes, and the fetishes most typical of each region are recognizable easily. Some of the images of which examples occur in the present collection bristle with old nails and pieces of iron. They are explained by the customs of the natives of the coast region driving such objects into their images  when tey make a vow. Some of the images in the present collection appear to be secular, but none have been identified so positively. The small new ivory fetishes may have been made for commercial purposes.


Fetish-image of wood


1 man stuck with iron nails and knives


2 man stuck with nails and hung with fetishes


3-6 miniature images stuck with nails


7 man standing with drum


8 boy with drum


9 Sorcerer (illustrated in catalogue)


10 woman with child in arms


11-12 women with child in arms


13 man, standing , painted


14-15 women standing with basket on head


16 woman with basket on head, bust only


17-19 images miniature with basket on head


20 woman with cradle on head


21 woman kneeling holding tobacco, pipe miniature fetishes strung around neck


22 old woman with bandage at waist


23-24 boys painted black


25 girl painted black


26 boy and girl seated, holding basket, painted black


27-28 seated man and woman holding basket painted black


29 boy with ox, painted black


30-31 man and woman pair


32-33 man and woman pair


34-35 pair of images attached by padlock and chain


36 pair of images seated side by side on carved block


37 standing image bisexual


38 standing image bifronton


39 man standing Yoruba


40 man standing ivory coast


41 man standing holding receptacle for wine


42 man squatting


43 woman standing showing coiffure and tatooage


44 woman standing ivory coast


45 woman standing  baoule ivory coast


46 woman standing


47 woman standing niger


48-60 men standing


61-79 women standing


80-81 men standing painted


82 man standing body bristling with narrows strips of hide


83 man standing with boys on shoulders


84 man seating on tortoise


85 bust of man miniature


86 woman standing with child at back


87 standing image with three heads


88 woman kneeling


89 woman squatting


90 woman standing highly conventionalized with conical head dand cross arms decorated with bead bracelets of many strands


91 bust of woman


92 child in cradle


93 image standing with many pendents rattle pods and two beaks of hornill


94-95 standing image mirror at navel


96 seated image mirror at navel


97 image standing incase of clothes


98 image squatting


99 images standing with drums saped bodies


100-102 standing images bodies rectangular prisms perforated.


103-112 images of women terminating in points Three have fibre skirt


113 image of woman similar to preceeding, but cleft at base, with cord for carrying


114 image of man foreigner with high at and holding mug and bottle


115 antelope baoule ivory coast


116 cylinder crown with four division at top


Fetishe-image of Ivory


117-118 man and woman on carved bases


119 woman kneeling


120-121 man and woman standing pair


124-128 men standing


129-131 men kneeling


132-133 men crouching


134 woman standing


135-143 woman standing miniature made of teeth of rhinoceros


144-146 human busts


147-152 human heads


153-154 tips of tusk, with human heads


155-166 miniature masks


Fetish image of stone


167 man smocking pipe steatite


168 woman standing encoiled with serpent steatite


169 man kneeling steatite


170 carving in relief , three women steatite


171 crucifix steatite


Fetish images of metal


172 highly conventionalized image encased in brass French congo


173 man and woman mounted on base brass benin


174 Head Holding ring in mouth body tapering to point iron




The masks of the people of the Congo like those of Africa in general may be divided into three principal classes : war masks, dance masks, and the mask of the feticheur that curious personage who combines the attribute s of high priest , magistrate and physician. Whatever may be their use all are more or less directly connected with the medicine man and are religious rather than festal. They consist almost invariably of a face or head or carved wood usually painted and supplemented with an enormous fringe of fibre, attached at the back or base of the mask and hanging over the shoulders , the face ordinarily is human often of small dimensions an characterized by an extravagant deformation of the nose. In addition animal masks such as those of the elephant and the buffalo occur and sometimes masks with a mixture of animal and human attributes commonly a human face surmounted with the horns of an antelope.


175 Carved mask gift of Edward L Mayer


176 carved and painted mask French congo


177 carved mask antelope ivory coast


178 carved and painted masks gorilla




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