African Art

Mask, late 1800s

Unknown Bamun or Bamileke artist, Cameroon

burlap, cotton, bead, wool, wood, and yarn

Native Arts acquisition fund


Sowei Mask , late 1800s

Unknown Mende artist, Sierra Leone


Native Arts acquisition fund


Plaque, 1550-1650

Unknown Benin artist, Nigeria


Native Arts acquisition fund


The royal palace of the oba or king of Benin was adorned with hundreds of elaborately ornamented plaques, such as this one, telling the story of court life. Cast in the lost wax technique by a highly skilled artisan, this plaque has the figure of a court nobleman or possibly a chief showing details of his regalia, including his helmet, an elaborate coral necklace, embroidered skirt, belt, and anklets.

Door Panels, late 1800s

Master of Ikerre, Yoruba culture, Nigeria


Native Arts acquisition fund

1973.357 and 1980.58

In Yoruba culture, important artists such as the Master of Ikerre were commissioned by kings to create large and richly ornamented doors to adorn the entrance to a palace or an important shrine. The high relief carving depicts human and animal forms, from women carrying clay pots or musical instruments to men holding bows, arrows, guns, or flywhisks—and even some riding horseback.

House Post, 1920s

Olowe Ise, Yoruba culture, Nigeria


Funds from 1996 Collector’s Choice and gift of Valerie Franklin


A virtuoso carver, Olowe Ise was known for his technically daring high-relief style and energetic compositions. Kings and wealthy patrons commissioned him to create veranda posts and doors to add beauty and prestige to their homes. The post seen here stands over five feet tall and depicts a warrior seated on a horse, supported by two women and two men.

The warrior is deliberately carved to be larger than his horse to indicate his prominence. The placement of male and female figures beneath and supporting the warrior indicates the sharing of power between the genders that forms the foundation of Yoruba society.

Soliloquy: Life’s Fragile Fictions, 1997

Moyo Ogundipe, Yoruba culture, Nigeria

acrylic on canvas

Joan Evans Anderman Memorial Fund


Contemporary Yoruba artist Moyo Ogundipe draws on a vast storehouse of African and Western imagery for his paintings. Among his inspirations are the house posts carved by Olowe Ise. Traditional African body decoration, birds as symbols of freedom and power, and batik patterns are recurring motifs, but so are creatures from Greek mythology.

Egungun Mask, 1950s

Unknown Yoruba artist, Nigeria

wood, pigment, and cloth

Native Arts acquisition fund and partial gift of Michael and Patricia Coronel


Egungun Society members honor deceased ancestors by sponsoring and performing annual ceremonies called masquerades. The two faces of this mask represent a rabbit and a human.

Rain Has No Father?, 2008

El Anatsui, Ewe culture, Ghana

copper wire and bottle tops

Funds from Native Arts acquisition fund, U.S. Bank, Richard and Theresa Davis, Douglas Society, Denver Art Museum Volunteer Endowment, Alex Cranberg and Susan Morris, Geta and Janice Asfaw, Saron and Daniel Yohannes, Lee McIntire, Milroy and Sheryl Alexander, Dorothy and Richard Campbell, Wayne Carey and Olivia Thompson, Morris Clark, Rebecca H. Cordes, Kenneth and Rebecca Gart, Tim and Bobbi Hamill, Kalleen and Robert Malone, Meyer and Geri Saltzman, Ann and Gerry Saul, Mary Ellen and Thomas Williams, Nancy and James Williams, Forrest Cason, First Western Trust Bank, Howard and Sandy Gelt, Gene Osborne, Boettcher Foundation, John and Eve Glesne, The Schlegel White Foundation, Jeffrey and Nancy Balter, and Tamara Banks


El Anatsui creates dramatic metallic sculptures that resemble great cloths. Employing a workshop of assistants, small pieces of liquor bottle caps are repurposed through folding and binding to create a surface rich with texture and color. The piece takes on a new unique character each time it is hung as the different folds that are created alter the light and shadow that feature so heavily on its surface. Influences on the creation of this piece include the tradition of kente cloths, the history of international trade between Africa and Europe, and the Rocky Mountains to the west of Denver.

Ngil Mask, late 1800s

Unknown Fang artist, Gabon

native fiber, wood and paint

Gift of Fred H. Riebling


This mask was worn by the Ngil—a secret society banned by French colonial rulers in 1910—during initiations, ceremonies, and processions. The society’s name means “gorilla,” and the masks arched eyebrows and broad, rounded forehead may be meant to model the face of a gorilla. The mask was originally white—a color that the Fang associate with ancestral spirits, death, and male virility.

Bedu Mask, about 1960

Sirikye, Nafana culture, Ivory Coast

wood, paint, and metal

Native Arts acquisition fund


Once a year, dancers don giant masks representing Bedu, an animal spirit that lives in the wilderness. They perform acrobatic dances, model ideal conduct, and chide villagers who have misbehaved during the year. The artist Sirikye defined the look of these masks, which feature large round faces, triangular mouths, and geometric patterns.


The African art collection consists of approximately 1,000 objects—older works and new ones by contemporary artists. Focused on the diverse artistic traditions of Africa, it includes rare and exquisite works in sculpture, textiles, jewelry, painting, printmaking, and drawings. Although the strength of the collection is west African art, with emphasis on Yoruba works, there are important masterpieces from all regions and mediums of expression including wood, metals, fibers, terra cotta, and mixed media compositions.

NOW ON VIEW: During the North Building renovation project, please view select pieces from the Denver Art Museum’s African art collection in the cross-departmental exhibition Stampede: Animals in Art.

EXPLORE THE COLLECTION ONLINE: Browse artworks from the African art collection anytime. Check back often for additions and updates.


This collection tells the stories of Africa from many perspectives, and represents the diversity of creativity in a continent containing thousands of art-producing societies.

The collection also balances works by women artists—including the Akire shrine painters—with those made by men. Through the works of women artists, the collection explores questions of gender, rituals, and the importance of group creativity in African art. Older works in the collection are juxtaposed with new works by contemporary African artists to highlight cultural continuities, international influences, and variety of themes.

Related Exhibitions

  • Frank Mechau, Wild Horses (one of six panels), 1936. Tempera paint on plywood; 45-3/4 x 102 in. Denver Art Museum: gift of Mrs. Frank Mechau, 1972.27F.


    Animals in Art
    On View through May 19, 2019

    See how animals have captivated artists throughout history in the exhibition Stampede: Animals in Art. This cross-departmental exhibition brings together more than 300 objects from the Denver Art Museum’s collection to explore the presence of animals in art throughout centuries and across cultures. More

Related Events

  • Talk at 12 (Wednesday & Friday)
    Event: Tours

    Talk at 12 (Wednesday & Friday)

    Occurs every Wednesday and Friday. Next Occurs on Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - 12:00pm12:30pm.

    Join a docent for a 30-minute, in-depth look at an aspect of the museum’s collections or something special happening in the galleries. More

  • Image credit: Kiyoshi Kanai. Don’t Buy Ivory, 1989. Offset lithograph. AIGA Design Archives: Gift of AIGA. Image courtesy of AIGA Design Archives.
    Event: Tours

    Stampede Public Tours

    Occurs every day through May 19, 2019, except November 22, 2018 and December 25, 2018. Next Occurs on Friday, May 25, 2018 - 1:00pm1:45pm.

    In this daily 45-minute tour, see how animals have captivated artists throughout history in Stampede: Animals in Art. More

  • Visita guiada de Estampida
    Event: Tours

    Visita guiada de Estampida

    Occurs on the first Saturday of every month through May. Next Occurs on Saturday, June 2, 2018 - 1:00pm1:45pm.

    El primer sábado de cada mes, el Denver Art Museum te invita a una visita guiada gratis de Stampede: Animals in Art (Estampida: animales en el arte). More

  • Frank Mechau, Wild Horses (one of six panels), 1936. Tempera paint on plywood; 45-3/4 x 102 in. Denver Art Museum: gift of Mrs. Frank Mechau, 1972.27F.


    Animals in Art
    On View through May 19, 2019

    See how animals have captivated artists throughout history in the exhibition Stampede: Animals in Art. This cross-departmental exhibition brings together more than 300 objects from the Denver Art Museum’s collection to explore the presence of animals in art throughout centuries and across cultures. More

  • Logo for the 3-D Studio at the Denver Art Museum
    Event: Artists & Studios

    3-D Studio and Weekend Artist Demonstrations

    Saturday, October 7, 2017Sunday, May 19, 2019.

    Get creative with hands-on artmaking activities in the 3-D Studio. On weekends, watch artist demonstrations. Fun for all ages! More

News & Stories

  • Visitors enjoying the museum at Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer, on the plaza at La Musidora, and in Stampede: Animals in Art
    Blog: Don't Miss

    Things to Do Memorial Day Weekend

    Looking for something fun to do Memorial Day Weekend? The Denver Art Museum has you covered. Check out current exhibitions including Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer, Stampede: Animals in Art, and the musical rocking chairs La Musidora (which is back for another summer!). More

  • Man, woman, and two children work on an artmaking project together at the museum
    Blog: Kids & Families

    May 2018 Family Fun at the DAM

    What to See & Do This Month at the DAM

    Take a new approach to your museum visit in the month of May with some surprising activities for the whole family.

    Catch an unexpected musical performance! More

  • The Cheyenne bronze sculpture by Frederic Remington
    Blog: Inside the Collection

    Frederic Remington's The Cheyenne

    On View in Stampede

    Frederic Remington’s The Cheyenne is one of the most important works in the Denver Art Museum's western American art collection. In honor of our 125th anniversary, learn more about this notable acquisition. More


African Renaissance: Old Forms, New Images in Yoruba Art. Moyo Okediji. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2002.


Current Staff

  • Nancy Blomberg, Chief Curator and Curator of Native Arts
  • John Lukavic, Curator of Native Arts
  • Denene De Quintal, Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Curatorial Fellow
  • Julia Strunk, Curatorial Assistant
  • Heather Nielsen, Associate Director of Learning and Engagement

Past Staff

  • Edgar C. McMechan, Curator
  • Frederic H. Douglas, Curator
  • Kate Peck Kent, Assistant Curator
  • Royal B. Hassrick, Curator
  • Norman Feder, Curator
  • Richard Conn, Curator
  • David Irving, Assistant Curator
  • Ryntha Johnson, Assistant Curator
  • Moyo Okediji , Assistant Curator
  • Roger Echo-Hawk, Assistant Curator
  • Polly Nordstrand, Associate Curator