Paris Exhibition Sheds Light on Anonymous Masters of West African Sculpture

Female Figure, Master of the Rounded Volumes, circa 1900. Photo: Studio Ferrazzini Bouchet via Hyperallergic
Female Figure, Master of the Rounded Volumes, circa 1900.
Photo: Studio Ferrazzini Bouchet via Hyperallergic
Mask with animal (ram), a 19th-century mask by an unknown Côte D'Ivoir sculptor. Photo: by Rainer Wolfsberger via Hyperallergic

Mask with animal (ram), a 19th-century mask by an unknown Côte D’Ivoir sculptor.
Photo: by Rainer Wolfsberger Courtesy Musée du quai Branly

“Les Maîtres de la Sculpture de Côte D’Ivoire,” an exhibition currently on display at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, presents works of West African sculpture with an emphasis on individual sculptors.

This show takes African art outside the traditional western-centric narrative, where work by African artists have often been lumped together. Highlighting the individual styles and skills of these artists presents the works as art, rather than “objects” (see 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair is Full of Good and Tough Questions).

Sra, back view of Maternité (1915)  Photo: Patrick Gries, Valérie Torre via Hyperallergic

Sra, back view of Maternité (1915)
Photo: Patrick Gries, Valérie Torre Courtesy Musée du quai Branly

Curators Lorenz Hamberger and Eberhard Fischer have selected works by sculptors including Uopié, Kuakudili, Nkpasopi, Tame, Sra, Tompieme, and Si, as well as unknown artists with identifiable styles like the Essankro Master or the Master of the Arched Back.

The works originate from various places in Western Africa, including the Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. Most of the artists lived and worked in the 19th and 20th centuries, but the show ends with a contemporary section, with works by Koffi Kouadou, Nicholas Damas, Emile Guebehi, and Jems Robert Koko Bi.

Master of Duonu, Zuhu Mask with Bird Head (circa 1920)  Photo: Museum der Kulturen, Basel via Hyperallergic

Master of Duonu, Zuhu Mask with Bird Head (circa 1920)
Photo: Museum der Kulturen, Basel Courtesy Musée du quai Branly

With this exhibition, the curators are contesting the traditional decontextualization of African artworks, whose forms inspired Modernists like Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani (see $1.9 million for African Mask Once Owned by André Breton).

<i>Female Figure</i>, Master of the Rounded Volumes, circa 1900. <br>Photo: Studio Ferrazzini Bouchet via Hyperallergic</br>

Master of the Rounded Volumes, Female Figure (circa 1900)
Photo: Studio Ferrazzini Bouchet Courtesy Musée du quai Branly

“Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast” is on view at the Musée du Quai Branly until 26 July 2015


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