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The following information may be used as background material for any articles written about Gallery AFFRICA.

Holo Helmet Mask, Private Collection, as seen in the exhibit and catalog CHOKWE!:  Art and Initiation Among the Chokwe and Related Peoples (Birmingham Museum of Art; Baltimore Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Arts), 1998-2000.


An article in US News & World Report began with the headline "Out of Africa: American collectors are discovering the world of tribal art." Among the well established and respected destinations for these collectors (as pointed out in this article) is AFFRICA, located in Washington, DC.

Visitors to this site are invited to check out the link to the US News article AFFRICA in USN&WR AFFRICA Owner/Director Mona Gavigan was one of those interviewed for this article.  Also visit the FAQ page to get to know Ms. Gavigan’s personal approach to this field of collecting.

AFFRICA has been metropolitan Washington's premier gallery of fine African art for two decades. The Gallery began at Volta Place in Georgetown, and has been at its Dupont Circle location since 1986.

AFFRICA’s collection includes masks, figures, pottery, furniture, textiles, implements, currency and adornment – all selected for authenticity as well as artistry.  AFFRICA is one of but a few dozen "open door" galleries in the world, exclusively representing authentic African art.  Appointments are not required during regular business hours but are required for appraisals and consultations.

pygmyfinal.jpg (100060 bytes) Pygmy bark cloth (detail). This particular example appears in Robbins and Nooter, African Art in American Collections.

kuba2.jpg (131955 bytes) "Kasai velvet", Kuba and Shoowa peoples.

Quietly breaking new ground. Among many innovative and informative exhibits are two from the early eighties. Each featured textile art made by Congolese women Both shows were firsts for a commercial gallery in the United States. One presented embroidered and cut-pile raffia, so-called "Kasai Velvets" of the complex of Kuba peoples. Their sophisticated, rhythmic patterns (in mostly black and natural tan) are perhaps only comparable to the most brilliant jazz improvisations. Africa continues to feature these textiles, which have become very scarce, and not to be confused with inferior commercial examples flooding the market. Like artists everywhere, the women strove for innovation, creating distinctive designs for which they would be remembered. The other exhibit featured a superb collection of rare Mbuti drawings on bark fiber, collected circa 1945-1950, with field photographs documenting mothers making them for their daughters’ initiation – unlike "revival" or commercial examples made in the 1980s for ethnographers or for sale. An example from that exhibit is published in African Art in American Collections (Warren Robbins and Nancy Nooter, 1989). These extraordinary, fugitive works have an affinity with those of the surrealist Paul Klee. William Rubin et al. demonstrated affinities between them and modern artists in a 1984 MoMA exhibit Primitivism in Twentieth Century Art. Earlier, Warren Robbins demonstrated how Klee and other artists were influenced by Congolese art.

Affrica Gallery.gif (584250 bytes) Gallery view of "Uncommon
Choices I"

Mona Gavigan, Director of AFFRICA, has participated as an appraiser in African art on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.

Uncommon Choices.  These internationally acclaimed exhibits coincided with meetings of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA), held at the National Museum of African Art.  The first, in 1982, coincided with ACASA's 25th meeting; the second, in 1989, with ACASA’s 8th Triennial Symposium, also held under the auspices of the Museum.  In both, major international African art dealers were invited to select and be identified with their "uncommon choices" to intrigue African specialists attending these meetings.  Of  "Uncommon Choices I," Nancy Ingram Nooter wrote in African Arts magazine:

"By bringing together the selections from fifteen art dealers and galleries from the United States and abroad, it encouraged cooperation and communication among dealers. More importantly, its focus was the presentation of lesser-known genres and singular individual objects to stimulate the expression of ideas and the exchange of information among scholars, students, and other interested viewers."

Many objects from "Uncommon Choices" were later featured in other exhibitions and publications, including a rare family portrayal from AFFRICA's collection that was also featured in a major Smithsonian exhibition:  "Icons:  Ideals and Power in the Art of Africa." 

Owner/Director Mona Gavigan’s other prominent roles have included curating "Celebrations and Rituals: The Art of Africa" at Meridian House International in Washington, DC.

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Miniature masks. The Dan People. Wood.

Tiny treasures in wood.  Repeatedly, AFFRICA has helped accelerate the appreciation of some previously under-acknowledged categories of African art. When the world-renowned exhibition (and accompanying 600+ page catalog) titled "Africa: The Art of a Continent" featured the art of the Dan and related groups of Liberia and Ivory Coast, a focus was on the ma or miniature masks. Carved in a wide variety of distinctive forms, these wood miniatures duplicated the forms of revered face masks. Some were thought to absorb the power of full-size masks; some were replacements for damaged masks; and some identified the owners' association with a mask or secret society – giving them a collective misnomer of  "passports."   Some were given libations for decades and others were rubbed on the owner's forehead to relieve stress.  To hold one is to sense use and attention, reflected in fine patina or layers of sacrificial feedings.  Of these masks, renowned African art scholar William Fagg (whose descriptions of African art shall remain incomparable) wrote "so the miniatures partake of the power and force of the masks, and there are some which the carrier must treat with almost as much respect as a physicist carrying a radioactive isotope about."  This demonstrates the awe and respect such objects can command – whether as powerful charms or as art for those who care for them in or out of their context.

Staffs.jpg (74749 bytes) From AFFRICA's collection of "erinle" and "osanyin" staffs, Yoruba Peoples, Nigeria

Mysteries in metal. The Gallery's first exhibits of metal were utilitarian forms, such as weapons, implements and currency.  For an important  exhibition in 1991, the focus was on ritual iron, expecially that of the Yoruba.  Standing like a miniature forest of Giacometti sculptures, AFFRICA’s collection of wrought iron divination and medicine staffs depict a spiritual transformation: the medium, iron (an element of strength) was often considered a mysterious, if not mystical, change in earth matter. When used, these shafts were reunited with earth. Symbolic forms project from their shafts - those used for healing portray a major witch-bird surrounded by a circle of lesser ones; some metamorphosed into other power forms such as blades and spears.

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A few examples of currency and related metal objects.
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The art of money.   A growing area of collector interest, African currency ranges in size from the tiny "Kissi pennies" of the Guinea Coast to the enormous currency blades of the Topoke and other peoples of the Congo region. The value of African currency rests in the rich variety of textures and shapes that are at once organic and monumental, no matter what the size.  The forms often suggest highly stylized body adornment, such as anklets and armlets; or blade-like forms representing weapons and implements – but with details designating them as objects valued for their form and metal content.  As Dr. Roy Sieber, renowned pioneer in the field of African art and a former associate director of the National Museum of African Art in Washington has observed, "Each African group had its own currency, just as we do today.  But the values in African money were far more complex than they are for us, involving social prestige and esthetics."

The metal objects in the AFFRICA collection have been selected as examples of functional forms effectively designed and recognized in or out of their cultural context as eminent examples of sculpture.

Wishing that your explorations lead to finding coveted objects to which you may return repeatedly, and that you always see and be moved by them as if for the first time – whether in books, museums, or your own special space.

Mona Gavigan, Gallery AFFRICA

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AFFRICA has featured fine, traditional African art since 1979.

The collection includes masks, figures, pottery, furniture, textiles, implements, currency and adornment – all selected for authenticity as well as artistry.

Hours: By Appointment.
Call (202) 745-7272.

©2002 Gallery Affrica - All rights reserved.

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