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I have only to look at something, anything, and it can instantaneously give me an idea. Whether a face, an object, or an event, it can immediately suggest a shape to create, in painting, in photography, in sculpture. . . . It isn't a document, it isn't the direct impression of this object or this event, it is the result of this impression, which immediately gushes out.

—Man Ray (Interview with Pierre Bourgeade, Paris, 1972)

A pioneer in a variety of media, Man Ray is best known for his progressive photography. As a member of New York's Modernist art scene at the beginning of the twentieth century, he first awoke to the creative impulse generated by African art in 1914 when sculptural works from West and Equatorial Africa were exhibited at the gallery 291. It is possible that the aura of mystery that surrounded African art in his day resonated powerfully with Man Ray's attraction for art that defies simple interpretation and classification. Incorporating African artifacts in his photographs contributed to his declared artistic goal "to amuse, bewilder, annoy or to inspire reflection."

Whether as a sought-after portraitist; a documentary photographer hired by dealers, collectors and artists to visually record works from their holdings; or the creator of advertisements for fashion magazines, Man Ray frequently included African artworks in his striking photographic constructions, either as props or as prime subjects. His extensive and innovative body of work featuring African masks and figures was central to the development of his career.