Collecting visions of primal art

Exhibit displays themes of sexuality in the context of 20th century tribal communities in West and Central Africa

Collecting Visions contains pieces made of wood, leather and stone.
Collecting Visions contains pieces made of wood, leather and stone.
Photo: 
Photo: 

It’s sexuality in its primitive form.

Collecting Visions, housed inside the African Gallery of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, is a historical and aesthetic exploration of tribes in West and Central Africa.

Token ideas of male and female sexuality are taken from their 20th century tribal history.

The pieces showcase the story of their former homes, from the grass hats on the wood statues to the smooth stone surfaces of the figurines on the pedestals.

With each work portraying someone’s story from an African tribe, the gallery felt like a museum given how much I was learning.

By the windows in the art gallery, the wood carvings and statues had a distinct primal aesthetic, created without the Western conception of classically refined art in mind.

With the minimalism present in the works, they are clearly symbols of the everyday life and rituals of the tribal cultures they come from.

I got the feeling that I was being told an account of someone’s personal feelings through their art, giving the exhibit as a whole an entirely new personal perspective.

Themes of individual stories jumped out at me while I was visiting the show.

The creators of the figures and sculptures used the tools available to them — from stones to leather to grass, all in an attempt to mold depictions of their ideas.

Specifically, the grass and straw used in certain pieces gave the natural and organic vibe to specific pieces that was exemplified in the exhibit as a whole.

Themes of sexuality are arguably one that have always existed and in modern art exhibits, we find that theme being displayed in figurative and metaphoric ways.

With Collecting Visions, however, the viewer is taken back to the primitive nature of the historic tribes in Africa to get a glimpse of how they dealt with these same themes.

“Nduda Figure,” a ritual stone-carved idol used to invoke the presence of spirits during cultural and religious ceremonies, displayed these primitive themes with multiple nails jutting from its body.

The exhibit’s pieces were beautiful in a visceral and almost terrifying way, and I found myself more historically enlightened than artistically fulfilled.

That being said, the true value of the exhibit lay in its ability to shed light on a culture that is vastly different from our own.

For example, “The Maiden Spirit Mask” was a tribal mask that had uniquely human features and perfectly exhibited its original culture.

It was an object created to honour the concept of traditional feminine beauty as it was appreciated and adored in the African tribal societies of the time. The mask is beautiful with its crown of carved wooden red and brown bodies sitting atop the female’s head.

The emphasis on the cultural significance of the collection has given it an intellectual depth that is hard not to appreciate.

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