Skip to main content

African Art, African Voices: Long Steps Never Broke a Back

October 2, 2004–January 2, 2005

African art, when exhibited in the museum setting, often appears frozen in an alien frame. The music, movement, and debate that once surrounded the mask, sculpture, ring, or stool are noticeably missing. Also absent is the immediate context for these objects, the traditional cultures in which they functioned. This innovative exhibition takes an "insider's" approach to African art. Reframing the objects, African Art, African Voices proposes looking at what was once done with them while also listening carefully to what was once said in their presence.

Drawn primarily from the excellent collections of the Seattle Art Museum, the exhibition is organized into thematic categories described by representatives from various African cultures and backgrounds. Personal narrative, interactive media, and contextual information breathe life into the many diverse and beautiful art objects on display.

The show includes approximately 130 objects, including sculpture, masks, textiles, jewelry, photographs, film, and contemporary art. The exhibition is supplemented by video projections, computer interviews, and an audio tour.


A book accompanying this exhibition was published by the Seattle Art Museum in conjunction with Princeton University Press. Titled Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back, it includes essays by Robert Farris Thompson, Professor of African and African American Art History at Yale University, and Pamela McClusky, Seattle's founding curator of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Known for his scintillating analyses of African art, Thompson devotes his opening essay to introducing the missing dimension of motion, exploring the meaning of postures and gestures in various African cultures. McClusky explores subjects ranging from royal art of the Kom and Asante kingdoms, masquerades from the Yoruba, Dan, and Mende cultures, sculpture from the Kongo region, a Mercedes-Benz coffin from the streets of Ghana, photographs from Mali, and Maasai body ornaments.


  • Philadelphia Museum of Art • October 2, 2004 - January 2, 2005
  • Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford • February 12 - June 19, 2005

Main Building


This exhibition was organized by the Seattle Art Museum with generous funding provided by Washington Mutual.

It was also supported by generous grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Jessie Ball duPont Fund, and by the Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Additional funding was provided by The Neubauer Family Foundation and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts/Pennsylvania Humanities Council. Promotional and media support was provided by The Philadelphia Tribune and NBC 10 WCAU. The audio tour is made available to visitors without charge through the generosity of Target Corporation.


The exhibition was organized by Pamela McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art at the Seattle Art Museum. The exhibition is coordinated in Philadelphia by John Zarobell, Assistant Curator of European Painting and Sculpture before 1900, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Check out other exhibitions

View full calendar