Holding Culture: Containers in African Art

Whether filled or empty, open or closed, literal or symbolic, containers have long impressed themselves on the human imagination. Vessels preserve organic materials and interrupt natural processes. They hold power and wealth, as well as history, memory, and meaning. They are sites for transformation, whether through cooking, fermentation, or spiritual reshaping. In all these cases, the need to preserve food or house supernatural beings imbues vessels with particular importance. This installation, featuring African containers from the Museum’s collection, explores how various cultures encompass and embellish the world around them. Through the selection of patterns, materials, and forms, African artists facilitate relationships between vessels and their users or context. The works on view in this gallery—and those in adjacent galleries on this floor—investigate how art mediates the connections between inside and out.