Art and Ethnography 22/Apr/2016 - 2/Oct/2016
When Pablo Picasso and his fellow artists first encountered sculptures from Africa and Oceania, treasures of tribal art, at the beginning of the twentieth century, they obviously considered them as artworks. Do ethnographers and researchers, who understand the functions that these objects have in tribal culture, see all them as artworks? Do today's viewers see them as objects of art or interesting ethnographic artefacts from a barely known, remote world? These are the essential questions explored by the exhibition.




The explorations starting from Western Europe, the colonisations, and the encounters with exotic cultures gradually redrew the worldview of European people from the 15th century onward. During this process, the artefacts of distant peoples were regarded by collectors, scholars and museums and the public as symbols of diverse cultures. These encounters with the foreign considerably reshaped Western man's view of humanity, society and culture. The exotic needed to be accommodated in the world.

Until the end of the 19th century, exotic objects were included in western collections mostly as ethnographies, as documents of peoples and their ways of life. Their artistic quality was not foregrounded in their interpretation. The first to include the objects of tribal art in the artistic discourse were the avant-garde and the modernists - through the concept of primitivism. Up to the 1960s, however, any connection with and affinity towards such art was based solely on aesthetic and formal ground. The study of exotic art was a recognised part of cultural anthropology as early as the end of the 19th century, yet for a long time the approach continued to hold a peripheral status within the discipline. Since the 1980s, however, researchers have become more and more eager to ask essential questions about the cultural and universal function of art.

Current approaches of anthropology and art history are positioned between two basic standpoints. One is stating that the products of tribal art can and should be interpreted within the cultural concepts of the people itself. According to the other approach, an intercultural framework for art is needed, in which western and tribal art can be considered together.

Tribal culture and its objects now form an autonomous part of the artistic discourse. The black bodies among white walls, the anonymity of the artists, the political and poetic dimensions of collection and presentation, provide a widening spectrum of interpretations. Such interpretations are attempted in the space of this exhibition.

The exhibition was realised in cooperation with the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest.

Curators: Zsófia Fazon and Gábor Wilhelm, Museum of Ethnography, Budapest

Hungarian National Gallery
1014 Budapest, Szent György tér 2.