Nigeria Meets Ware County
 
        African cultures take an entirely different approach than western cultures concerning the production and use of “art” objects. Many African cultures do not have a word in their language for art. Decorative masks, figures, and textiles are valued more for their usefulness rather than their aesthetic value. These objects were not used to decorate homes but rather used to worship gods or ancestors or teach a lesson. To these cultures, sculptures or textiles have mainly a religious purpose. The western viewer experiences these objects like a non-Christian experiences a rugged cross. The rugged cross symbolizes many important values to Christians but to a non-Christian it is a battered piece of wood with no special meaning.
    It must be understood that the creator never intended these figures to be realistic.  The exaggerations of facial features are usually meant to show an important virtue or behavior. For example, in some masks the female is depicted with a very small mouth and down cast eye. This is meant to show that a good woman/wife is quite and does not disagree with her husband. Another example is showing a chief much larger than the cheetah he has just killed. This emphasizes the power and might of the Chief. These exaggerations are meant to send a message to the viewer not to depict people or animals in a naturalistic way.
    When most people view African art their first reaction is “that isn’t too impressive, a child could make that”. This is a similar reaction people have to the works of Pollock and other modern artists. Picasso was greatly influenced by African art. After viewing a collection of African masks Picasso got the inspiration that led to the cubist movement.  African art is very relevant and influential in the progression of modern art.
    If the creators of these African artifacts could comment on the current state of their creations they would be very confused. When many of the figures and textiles were created they were meant for a merely practical use. Most African cultures do not value realism and aesthetics like western cultures. The creators would be very concerned about how these objects are being view out of their context. These works were not created for display in a museum like many works of art. African artifacts such as figures, textiles, and jewelry were meant to be used not viewed.
    In many African cultures some shines or figures were never seem by a majority of the tribe or village. Many tribes had initiations groups whoes duties ranged from dancing the masks at festivals to making sacrifices to shines of ancestors. Elders in the groups are allowed to see and care for the tribe’s most sacred shrines or idols. This example illustrates how African art, when viewed in a museum, is taken out of its original context and can not be appreciated the way the creator intended. It is kind of like eating a Big Mac in Egypt. It’s still a hamburger but its not the same.
    There are many theories about the role the Nok figures played in Nok culture. So by looking at later societies this may give clues as to what the figures were used for. It is very difficult for archeologist and anthropologists to research African religious rituals. First of all many of the rituals are secret and even some members of the tribe will never know how they are preformed. Secondly, African cultures record their history and mythology through oral traditions so the practices of a tribe that is 2,400 years old is hard to accurately ascertain.
    Another way that African art is different than western art is that African figures were used as teaching tools, shines for worship, or symbols of power. It is true today many consider the stain glass in Chatres Cathedral and golden reliquaries in the Vatican to be work of art and less practical material. However African artifacts were more narrowly used for practical purposes than any type of western art.  The simplistic and geometric style seen in many African pieces is not because of a lack of skill but because of a lack of interest.  The African aesthetic differs greatly from what western audience consider beautiful. All of these factors show be taken into consideration when viewing this collection.