Tribal art

Tribal art is the visual arts and material culture of indigenous peoples. Also known as non-Western art or ethnographic art, or, controversially, primitive art,[1] tribal arts have historically been collected by Western anthropologists, private collectors, and museums, particularly ethnographic and natural history museums. The term "primitive" is criticized as being Eurocentric and pejorative.[2]

Statuette; 19th-20th century; by Mambila people from Nigeria (Africa); Musée du quai Branly (Paris)
Moais at Rano Raraku (the Easter Island, Oceania), sculpted by Rapa Nui people
Yupik mask; 19th century; from Alaska; Musée du Quai Branly


Tribal art is often ceremonial or religious in nature.[3] Typically originating in rural areas, tribal art refers to the subject and craftsmanship of artifacts from tribal cultures.

In museum collections, tribal art has three primary categories:

Collection of tribal arts has historically been inspired by the Western myth of the "noble savage", and lack of cultural context has been a challenge with the Western mainstream public's perception of tribal arts.[5] In the 19th century, non-Western art was not seen by mainstream Western art professional as being art at all.[2] Rather, these objects were seen as artifacts and cultural products of "exotic" or "primitive" cultures, as is still the case with ethnographic collections.

In the second half of the 20th century, however, the perception of tribal arts has become less paternalistic, as indigenous and non-indigenous advocates have struggled for more objective scholarship of tribal art[6]. Before Post-Modernism emerged in the 1960s, art critics approached tribal arts from a purely formalist approach,[7] that is, responding only to the visual elements of the work and disregarding historical and cultural context, symbolism, or the artist's intention. Since then, tribal art such as African art in Western collections has become an important part of international collections, exhibitions and the art market.

Influence on Modernism

Major exhibitions of tribal arts in the late 19th through mid-20th centuries exposed the Western art world to non-Western art. Such major exhibitions included the Museum of Modern Art's 1935 Africa Negro Art and 1941 Indian Art of the United States.[7] Exposure to tribal arts have provided inspiration to many modern artists,[8] such as Expressionists,[7] Cubists, and Surrealists, notably Surrealist Max Ernst[9] or Pablo Picasso, who stated that "primitive sculpture has never been surpassed."[2]

See also


  1. Dutton, Denis, Tribal Art. In Michael Kelly (editor), Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  2. Perkins and Morphy 132
  3. Folk and Tribal Art, Cultural Heritage, Know India.
  4. Russel, James S. "Glass Cube Dazzles at Boston MFA’s $345 Million Wing: Review." Bloomberg. 21 Nov 2010. Retrieved 11 Jan 2011.
  5. Perkins and Morphy 136
  6. Retrieved 2019-07-26. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. Storr, Robert. "Global Culture and the American Cosmos." Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts: Arts, Culture and Society. 1995. (retrieved 15 Nov 2011)
  8. Perkins and Morphy 133
  9. Perkins and Morphy 134


Further reading

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