|?He who cannot
dance will say:
“The drum is bad.?
TERA Gallery is a private collection of fine art from antiquity to the present. The collection includes rare artifacts and magnificent objects from 500 BC to the early 20th century, and is dedicated to the rich artistic traditions of the people of Africa. To understand, appreciate, and celebrate the greatness of these African people as expressed in their art is and will always be the mission of the collection. Details of the objects in this remarkable collection are documented in a comprehensive catalogue, Altering the Way the World Views Art.
The modern definition of art gained prominence during the Renaissance period in Europe: the process or result of making material works (or artworks) which is unprompted by necessity, by biological drive, or by an undisciplined pursuit of recreation. The original definition of art (from the Latin ars, meaning ?skill? or ?craft?) was defined as the product or process of the effective application of a body of knowledge and a set of skills.
African art is not art for art’s sake as in the European tradition, rather it is as in the original and broadest definition of art. In cultures that before this century had no written language and no word for ?art,? these objects communicate ideas and a body of beliefs that define the community. African art is utilitarian and reflects the day-to-day life of the people, and represents the collective emotions of the society from the cradle to the grave. By both definitions of the word ?art?, African art has existed as long as humankind, from early pre-historic art to today.
The neglect of the African “art” reflects not only a bigoted worldview, but a wholesale fascination with Egypt’s achievements that causes a complete ignorance of the rest of Africa and its past. We fail to acknowledge the civilization from deep in Africa that dominated Egypt in ancient times for three-quarters of a century during the country’s 25th dynasty, a cultured civilization with its own traditions, construction, religion, and “art” dating back at least as far as the first Egyptian dynasty. These were a great African people who stood up to the Assyrians, perhaps saving Jerusalem in the process, allowing Hebrew society and Judaism to strengthen, and making Jerusalem a city of a godly significance from which would spring Christianity and Islam.
More than eight hundred ethnic groups live in Africa, and more than a thousand languages are spoken across the continent to communicate distinct social and religious beliefs between community members. The art produced by each group is animated by these beliefs and is inseparable from each group’s highly developed culture.
Objects in this extensive collection represent a number of different African societies and are executed with artistic sensibility, great beauty, and expert skills. The collection features fine and important objects of African tradition based sculpture, artifacts, craftworks, costumes, textiles, musical instruments, jewelry masks, figures, terracotta, metalwork and other ceremonial and utilitarian objects that represent the true artistic genius of the people who created them.
Each object in this collection is the expression of the experience of the African people and cannot be understood outside the context of the spiritual and natural environment of the African life in which it was created. Each piece in the collection reveals an essential part of these diverse artistic traditions, and embodies for its maker and its owner a meaning and stimulates a memory of its prior use. When coupled with other art forms such as story telling and dance, African art reinforces the past and determines the future in the African community.
African art objects are considered amongst the finest creations in the art world. They are highly sought after and can be viewed in museums, art galleries, and private collections around the world. However, that has not always been the case. With little apprehension and tremendous emotion, I present the origin of this reality: The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885.
The Berlin Conference convened on November 15, 1884 to decide the future of the African continent. Fourteen countries were represented: Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway, Turkey, and the United States of America. Against this political backdrop, the colonization of Africa by colonial powers was legitimized. By the end of the conference on February 26, 1885, the whole of Africa had been divided among themselves into fifty countries. These imperialist powers gave to themselves rule and domination over the vast continent and determined boundaries in the interior that disregarded the cultural and linguistic boundaries already established by the indigenous population. All colonies had to be administered and occupied to defend them against other participating countries seeking to claim their territories.
* Great Britain desired a Cape-to-Cairo collection of colonies and almost succeeded though their control of Egypt, Sudan (Anglo-Egyptian Sudan), Uganda, Kenya (British East Africa), South Africa, and Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana (Rhodesia). The British also controlled Nigeria and Ghana (Gold Coast).
* France took much of western Africa, from Mauritania to Chad (French West Africa) and Gabon and the Republic of Congo (French Equatorial Africa).
* Belgium and King Leopold II controlled the huge Democratic Republic of Congo (Belgian Congo).
* Portugal took Mozambique in the east and Angola in the west.
* Italy’s holdings were Somalia (Italian Somaliland) and a portion of Ethiopia.
* Germany took Namibia (German Southwest Africa) and Tanzania (German East Africa).
* Spain claimed the smallest territory – Equatorial Guinea (Rio Muni).
The world?s largest display of African art, the famous Royal Museum for Central Africa at Tervuren, Belgium, is not and never was intended to be an art museum. In fact, after what is widely considered to have been the most brutal of all African colonial regimes, King Leopold II ordered his collection of looted ?curiosities,? transformed into a scientific institute, which it remains today. And, to promote his new territory, he transported 267 Congolese tribesmen to live for one year in mock villages built in the royal park, the Palace of the Colonies, for display in the 1897 World Fair.
How is that all things Africa be so incorrectly represented and allowed to continue, even now? Based the imperialists’ infinite ignorance of Africa?s cultural traditions, the relationship of all things Africa to all things of the western world was determined primitive and inferior, needing to be ?civilized.? Such thinking began the notion that Africa?s culture and values are inferior to those of Europe and the rest of the world. This notion is the greatest misfortune of modern Africa and the world today.
Only after the European powers colonized Africa in the 19th century did Western scholars pay attention to the color of the African’s skin, to uncharitable affect. The ancient world was devoid of racism, and, while artwork from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome shows a clear awareness of racial features and skin tone, there is little evidence that darker skin was seen as a sign of inferiority.
Unlike western art created to please the visual sense, to appreciate African art as art alone is to separate them from their context and the cultural values they express. Each object must be understood to represent the beauty of a people, and the artisan’s love for the material used and the desire to make artifacts worth preserving. For this reason, the esthetic appreciation of these beautiful works of art does not depend on available ethnographic information and confirms the greatness of the unknown African craftsmen and societies who created them.
TERA Gallery is the steward of an African art collection of such beauty and power that it is a challenge to describe. I am delighted to present to you the TERA Gallery collection of fine art and masterpieces of tomorrow. May the beauty and power, and the art and history you experience in this collection inspire you and alter the way you view the world of art.