By itself, African Innovations, a highly selective assortment of works from the Brooklyn Museum’s extensive collection of African art, fills in the gaps in the ancient history of African art and design. But it goes further than that, illustrating that these objects weren’t only valued for aesthetic reasons. They were created to solve important social, political, and even cosmological problems.
The Chief’s Chair, for example, is a 2-foot-tall chair carved from a single block of wood. Most seats in sub-Saharan Africa are low stools with round or rectangular tops, but as early as the 16th century, Portuguese traders started gifting chairs with backs and leather seats to chiefs, who used them as thrones. On this European-style chair, a mask symbol of the chief is represented on the back, and figures on the rungs and splats–including a snake, some birds, and two figures with masks–depict scenes of daily and ceremonial life.