The figures created by Mbembe master carvers from southeastern Nigeria are among the earliest and most visually dramatic wood sculptures preserved from sub-Saharan Africa. Created between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, and striking for their synthesis of intense rawness and poetry, these representations of seated figures—mothers nurturing their offspring and aggressive male warriors—were originally an integral part of monumental carved drums positioned at the epicenter of spiritual life, the heartbeat of Mbembe communities.
When these electrifying creations were presented for the first time in a Paris gallery in 1974, they immediately caught the attention of the art world. That exhibition was a groundbreaking event that revealed a tradition unlike any that had defined African art until then. Dispersed internationally among private and institutional collections, these works will be reunited in New York for the first time in this exhibition.
The exhibition is made possible by the Friends of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.