In traditional sub-Saharan African societies, the spirit world had an established specific and formal relationship with living members of that group. While we in Western societies segregate social, political, or cultural aspects of our life experiences, in traditional African societies ancestors, deities, or natural phenomena all played a role in every part of community and individual existence.
African art was not originally made for display in galleries and museums, but for practical use and particularly for use in religious ritual or ceremonies. In Africa, nature spirits and spirit beings long dead or unborn were generally believed to affect the living for better or worse, and communication between this world and the spirit world was taken for granted.
This communication was often channeled through sculptures, masks, and other objects like those in Engaging the Spirits. These objects demonstrate the importance of maintaining successful relationships between the spirits and the living in order to ensure social prosperity and spiritual well-being.
Left to right: Yoruba Peoples (African), Mask (Efe Gelede), 20th century, wood and pigment, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Dileep and Martha Mehta, 2013.17.33; Ibibio Peoples (African, Nigeria), Mask (Mami Wata), 20th century, wood mirror, and pigments, Collection of Dileep and Martha Mehta, T2020.1.4
In traditional African societies, ancestors, deities, or natural phenomena all played a role in every part of community and individual existence.
Organized by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama.
Support for this exhibition was provided in part by a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.