Tradition as Innovation in African Art

Ahmanson Building, Level 2
January 27, 2008–November 2, 2008

Who defines an avant-garde? African art inspired the early twentieth-century avant-gardes of cubism, Dada, and surrealism. But Africa has always had its own pioneers who keep artistic expression fresh and original. Yoruba philosopher Olabiyi Yai writes that tradition implies innovation. The tension between the two has ensured the dynamism of most African arts, and artists tend to work within genres while defying their boundaries.

This exhibition includes the works of over thirty African artists, most from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Select groupings and pairings of objects will demonstrate how some African artists may challenge a canon by improvising on form and iconography. Single sculptures will show the tour-de-force creativity of artists who honor stylistic conventions while presenting new forms.

Loan objects will be drawn from the collections of eight private lenders, as well as the collections of the Fowler Museum at UCLA and LACMA. Polly Nooter Roberts, deputy director and curator of African Art of the Fowler Museum at UCLA, will serve as the guest curator of the exhibition.

This exhibition was produced in partnership with the Fowler Museum at UCLA and reflects a LACMA–Fowler collections/exhibitions initiative. We wish to thank the exhibition's generous lenders.

Image: Mask,Woyo peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, early 20th century, wood, pigment, (H. 24 ½ in., W. 13 ½ in., D. 6 in. or H. 62.20 cm., W. 34.30 cm., D. 15.20 cm.), LACMA, Gift of Lee and Rada Bronson (AC1998.60.1)