Dialogues: An Exhibition of African Tribal and Contemporary Arts
ESSAY BY LENORE METRICK-CHEN
A first time event in Iowa – Steve Vail Fine Arts presents Dialogues: conversations between African art objects and Western contemporary prints. The art comes from widely different worlds: the African masks have been worn in dances, the figures have received offerings and graced shrines, the vessels have served their intended functions. As a result, the African artworks all show marks of use and wear, evidence of the lives they led on their long journey to the gallery, while the innovative prints were created as art to be hung on the wall. Yet Western and African art have been in dialogue most famously since Picasso had his epiphany when seeing African sculpture and masks at the Trocadero Museum in Paris and then painted his first Cubist art work, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, in 1907. Placing African and Western art in proximity, they begin to converse. They speak about how to represent the human face: are mouths and eyes protrusions or recessions? What about the human torso: is it best explicitly shown or implied? And abstraction: how much is necessary for shapes to become representations? When is surface primary and when do we sense something under the surface? Dialogues don’t just stay on one topic—they can move, glide from one idea to another. In these works repetitions accumulate to become a new form while representation sometimes becomes abstraction. Openings are negative space but also imply objects. Sometimes the mark of the hand or tool is evident and sometimes it is smoothed away. Lines define objects but then become expressive in themselves. Dialogues presents artworks from nations across the globe; their interchanges reveal the limitless possibilities of human creativity.