African art: overview of a tradition of decoration

One wouldn't expect decorated gourds to make a stunning display, but the over 100 beautifully embellished containers from northern Nigeria on view at the Center for African Art here do exactly that. The exhibition, organized by the UCLA Museum of Cultural History, where it premi`ered last spring, is the first comprehensive show of its kind to be held in the United States.

It provides an excellent overview of a remarkable tradition of decoration that goes back to at least 850 BC, and that serves both as an expressive component of social ritual behavior and of symbolic thought.

Most of the gourds in the show were produced within the last century. Three of the most delightful were made expressly for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924, and depict Europeans in motor cars, on horses, and marching in military parades.

The exhibition continues at the Center for African Art, 54 East 68th Street, through March 4.

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