The exhibit, "Traditional Art of the Nigerian Peoples," currently on view at the Museum, of African Art, underscores the strong interwinning of art and religion in African art.
The 50 works, including masks, bowls, trays, verandah posts, altar pedestals and dancewands, were collected by Dr. Milton Ratner. Focusing on Nigerian art, his pieces include 20th-century traditional objects of the Yoruba, Ibo, Ibibio and others of present-day Nigeria and 19th-century works of the Benin Kingdom.
These objects have a vitality of simplified expression, seen in the essential forms chosen by the artists to communicate the objects spirit.
But what is required for Westerners to read them more fully is a mental transportation to the traditional culture events in which they were used: Nigerian dances, rituals and festivals.
The powers concealed within the forms come alive when used. The beaded crown worn by the king is a receptacle of powerful ingredients that protect and amplify his spirituality.
The verandah posts - figurated posts and poles lining the verandah of royalty and the homes of important personages - are important sculptural forms which act as architectural marks of status, the more numerous and embellished, the more powerful the proprietor.
The Benin figurated ivory tusk with a brass face as its base commemorates a deceased king by telling the history of his reign in the ivory carvings.
Other objects function in the same manner. They embody spirit. They have specific purposes when used within particular rituals that serve as a focus for communication with the gods, ancestors and spirits of the people.
Each of these objects asks that we look beyond the physical properties of the sculpture to the vital life which it signifies.
The exhibit continues through December at the Museum of African Art, 316-318 A. St. NE, 547-7424.