The objects in the Stanley School Programs Art of Africa collection—which include ceremonial masks, elaborately carved knives, richly patterned textiles, and carved sculptures—embody ideals and beliefs expressed in visual form. These works of art emerge out of long-standing traditions, and were made by artists representing West and Central African cultures such as the Dan, the Asante, the Yoruba, and the Fang. Some contain nature spirits, deities, and ancestors, honoring these beings and bringing them into the lives of humans to provide inspiration and assistance. Others are representations of power, depictions of gods and spirits, documents of historical events, or simply beautiful objects. All resonate with religious faith, social aspirations, political might, and creative energy. 

In viewing this collection, students will see some of the immense diversity of the African continent, which encompasses hundreds of ethnic groups, belief systems, and ways of life. Our teaching emphasizes inquiry and discovery, and we rely on discussion-based methods and hands-on opportunities to engage students with the objects, and further, to uncover and interpret the ideas that they represent. Art and life remain closely interwoven in Africa today, and the objects in this collection illuminate the roles that beautifully crafted objects played in the daily lives of specific Central and West African peoples. Such objects were used to heal sickness, while others were used to honor leaders and heroes, to preserve histories, assert power, bring prosperity, and to ease the many difficulties all people face over the course of a lifetime. Their visual power contributes to their effectiveness, making art an essential element of life.

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