African Art in The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing
The galleries for African Art (Galleries 350, 351, 352) in The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing have temporarily closed in preparation for the exciting new renovation project which will reenvision these collections for a new generation of visitors.
Works from across the African subcontinent span fired clay figures shaped in present-day Nigeria as early as 500 B.C. to the fiber creation Bleu no. 1 (2014) by contemporary innovator Abdoulaye Konaté. Major forms of visual expression surveyed relate to traditions of portraiture, dynastic succession, generational rites of passage, ancestor veneration, healing and divination, and theatrical performance. Their authors have contributed to major social and cultural developments, including the flourishing of urban centers such as ancient Jenne, evident in devotional sculpture sponsored by its citizenry; the arrival of Islam through trans-Saharan trade reflected in decorative arts ranging from tunics to architectural design; the early embrace of Christianity by Ethiopian monarchs and their sponsorship of liturgical works; the dawn of coastal trade with Europe and the exchange of exotic presentation pieces wrought from locally sourced ivory for imported luxury materials; a transformation in representation and the development of modernism in the West; and dynamically resilient historical traditions that endure into the present day.
In 1969 Nelson Rockefeller announced the gift of his collection of some five hundred works from sub-Saharan Africa to The Met. These were mostly figurative sculpture from West and Central Africa. The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, which was built to display the collection, opened to the public in 1982. Additional gifts have deepened the collection and expanded its parameters, reflecting the importance of recognizing the innovative nature of historical traditions in our own time and major idioms of visual expression ranging from textiles to Ethiopian Christian art and decorative arts from southern Africa.
Since its founding, the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas has developed an extensive program of African art exhibitions. Beginning with The Buli Master and Other Hands (1980), these have examined the significance of landmarks of its permanent collection. Sustained research projects assembling international loans, such as the current Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara, have regularly advanced and expanded understanding of major thematic and historical subjects.
The online collection features high-resolution, open-access images of works in the collection, along with cultural and chronological information. These object records—an ongoing research project—also provide data on the history of works from the time of their creation to their acquisition by the Museum.
For further reading on the history of the department, see Making The Met: 1870-2020 and The Nelson A. Rockefeller Vision: Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.
Explore the Collection
Discover highlights from our collection.
After nearly forty years since the inauguration of The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, The Met is creating three distinct new galleries for African Art, Ancient American Art, and Oceanic Art. Learn more about the renovation here.
Hear from philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah as he reflects on the cultural heritage of Africa in the 2022 Paul Mellon Lecture presented by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and World Monuments Fund.
Read more about the creation and dispersal of works from the royal court of Benin here.
Discover The Met's many publications on African arts.
Browse richly illustrated essays on the arts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Read fresh perspectives on sub-Saharan African art from curators and others at the Museum.
Watch videos on Sub-Saharan African art at The Met–interviews, lectures, exhibitions previews, and more.
Get to know the people who care for the art.
Meet the Fellows and learn about their research.
The Friends of The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing: Art of Five Continents brings together patrons and collectors in support of the department.