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Reviewed by:
  • Arts of Africa Gallery by Roslyn Adele Walker Dallas
  • Jessi DiTilli (bio)
Arts of Africa Gallery curated by Roslyn Adele Walker Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX Permanent installation

The Dallas Museum of Art acquired its first African object in 1969, but began exhibiting African art as early as 1954, with the exhibition "African, Oceanic, and Primitive Artifacts." In 1962, at the urging of Margaret McDermott, a Dallas art collector, the museum hosted a show called "The Arts of Man." Participating in midcentury utopian efforts at cross-cultural understanding through the arts, "The Arts of Man" united a range of objects from global cultures. According to Roslyn Adele Walker, Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and the Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art, this exhibition was a crucial moment for the origin of Dallas's interest in African art. McDermott and her husband eventually acquired a collection of African sculpture from Clark and Francis Stillman, a couple who had been collecting Congolese sculpture since the early 1930s. When the McDermotts donated the collection to the DMA in 1969, they saw it as a contribution not only to the museum, but also as an effort to contribute to the cultural improvement of the city of Dallas. Dallas journalists identified the importance of this gift not only for its beauty and historic meaning, but for its ability to foster pride and collective consciousness among Dallas's African American community (Walker 2010:14–15). The Stillman collection, donated by the McDermotts, was composed primarily of sculpture from the Congo. The scope of the museum's geographic coverage expanded in 1974 with another donation made possible by the McDermotts—this time from a prominent collection of African art in New York City, the Gustave and Franyo Schindler collection. The Schindlers had purchased works from an impressive range of nations in West and Central Africa. This set of objects had the added benefit of expanding the DMA's collection to include large statuary and masks.

When Dr. Walker, former director of the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, joined the staff of the DMA in late 2003, she sought to increase the diversity of styles, techniques, and media through her acquisitions. She also began to represent more of the major art-producing cultures of the continent and focus on balancing the relationship between Central and West Africa in the collection. Several key acquisitions from Nigeria accomplished this task.

Walker's contribution to the DMA's permanent collection of African Art is on full display in her skillful new installation of the collection. The African gallery opens with a color-coded map of Africa that shows the impressive swath of the continent represented in the installation and provides visitors an initial measure of geographic context. This wall graphic sets the tone of the collection installation, which is informative and welcoming to African art novices. Cheerful saffron walls add life and character to the exhibition's installation (Fig. 1). Walker has written a thoughtful and substantive extended label providing both analysis and context for almost every work in the exhibition. The exhibition's didactics masterfully manage the difficult task of speaking to a range of audiences, providing information accessible to children, the general public, and scholars alike.

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Installation view, Dallas Museum of Art "Arts of Africa" permanent collection gallery, 2017.

Photo: Dallas Museum of Art

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Headdress (d'mba) late 19th–early 20th century

Wood; 125.1 cm x 41 cm x 70.3 cm

Dallas Museum of Art, The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.18

Photo: Dallas Museum of Art

The introductory text offers an inclusive welcome to visitors, reminding them that Africa is origin and cultural home for all of humanity. In this divisive political moment, such efforts to center Africa in America's cultural consciousness are a necessary practice. The exhibition provides substantial social and political context to clarify the works on view and further support the installation's project of cross-cultural...


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pp. 92-95
Launched on MUSE
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