African Masters

Art from the Ivory Coast

28 June to 5 October 2014

Spanning 200 years of art and featuring some 200 masterpieces by around forty sculptors, this exhibition for the very first time presents African artists of different generations from six major art regions of West Africa and the works attributed to them. It refutes the still widespread view that traditional African art was almost devoid of aesthetic principles and that Africa had no proper artists, only anonymous sculptors working in tribal workshops. Visitors to this exhibition will be able to discover the great masters of the Guro, Baule, Dan, Senufo, Lobi and Lagoon peoples and admire their most famous works – sculptures and masks of intense power and beauty.

The exhibition is based on many years of research into ethnic art and it focuses on the personalities who produced the artworks. Although most of the artists’ names are unknown, these unusual works of African art can indeed be ascribed to particular artists, and the styles and thus the oeuvres of individual masters are clearly discernible. The exhibition also informs visitors about the role of sculptors in society, about working conditions in their workshops, and also about their ideals of beauty and how these were realised in their works. Single exhibits and groups of works illustrate the unique nature of each ofthese African artists. Additionally, the exhibition includes works by the pupils or followers of these masters. The exhibits, mainly figures and masks, date from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, from the pre-colonial and colonial periods. The exhibition also includes a number of short films and illustrations of working methods, showing how the sculptors worked.  West African sculptors traditionally used simple tools such as adze, carving knife and gouge. They created works of outstanding expressive quality and beauty. Their stylization of the human form and the simplified facial traits of the masks might at first appear peculiar to the Western eye, but it is no co incidence that Cubist and Expressionist artists were inspired by the formal idiom devised by African master carvers. Each of the six art regions of the Ivory Coast (today known as Côte d’Ivoire) and the adjoining states is represented by about ten masters famous for their figural    art: the Guro and Baule in the centre, the Dan in the west, the Senufo in the north, the Lobi in the north-east and the Lagoon peoples in the south-east of the country. The settlement areas of these ethnic groups do not, however, correspond with the state borders; some of the Senufo live in southern Mali,there are Dan settlements in the Liberian hinterland and the main settlement areas of the Lobi are located in Burkina Faso and Ghana. Ethnic boundaries have always been porous and, in the past two centuries in particular, neighbouring ethnic groups often influenced one another’s cultures – especially in the coastal regions. This is illustrated by the sculptures and most especially by the masks and prestige objects. The exhibition is arranged so as to give each artistic region and each artist rooted in it their own space. This enables the visitor to trace how traditions were passed on from one sculptor to another and to compare the work of one sculptor with that of contemporaries working in the same region, while also providing an overview of the different styles of Ivorian art.  The exhibits have been lent by major museums and private collections – including the Musée des Civilisations de Côte d’Ivoire in Abidjan, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Musée du quai Branly in Paris and the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale Tervuren – and provide impressive documentation for what art historians currently know about the art of West Africa, namely, that in West Africa as well as elsewhere individual masters created unique works of the highest quality. The exhibition also features the work of three contemporary, internationally successful Ivorian artists as examples of current artistic trends in West Africa.  An exhibition of the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn in cooperation with the Museum Rietberg Zürich.

(text: Museum Rietberg, Zürich)


A number of important works from the collection of the Musée des Civilisations de Côte d’Ivoire will be shown abroad for the first time. The lenders, fifty in total, include the following major European and North American museums: Museum der Kulturen Basel; Ethnographical Museum Budapest; Dallas Museum of Art; Musée d’Ethnographie, Geneva; CAAC Collection Pigozzi, Geneva; Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Cologne; Musée Africain, Lyon; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Musée du quai Branly, Paris; Sainsbury Center for Visual Arts, Norwich; Linden-Museum, Stuttgart; Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, Tervuren; Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich. The exhibition also features works from private collections.

Films in the exhibition

“The Great Mask Festival of the Dan”, “Mask Carvers of the Dan”, “Acrobats of
the Dan” and a number of short films on various themes of the exhibition. 

Show bibliography

Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

Museumsmeile Bonn
Helmut-Kohl-Allee 4
53113 Bonn
T +49 228 9171–200

Opening hours

Mondays closed
Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
Thursdays–Sundays, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.
(including public holidays even those which fall on Mondays)