Eric Edwards with artifacts from his collection on opening night of ‘Brooklyn is Africa’ Credit: Karen Juanita Carrillo photo

The personally selected, awe-inspiring collection of Brooklyn’s African art enthusiast Eric Edwards is now on view at Brooklyn Borough Hall. 

A selection of 35 cultural artifacts from Edwards’s private collection is on display as the “Brooklyn is Africa: Survival + Persistence = Resistance” exhibit. The exhibit is free and available for public viewing every day, from 10 a.m.–4 p.m., through March 3, 2023. 

On Wednesday, March 1, the exhibit is open for extended hours from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

The exhibit opened on Feb. 24 and an enthusiastic crowd of more than 250 people showed up to attend the event in Downtown Brooklyn. This is the second consecutive year Edwards has been able to work with Borough President Antonio Reynoso to showcase his collection at Borough Hall.

Having visited all 54 countries on the continent over several decades, Edwards has collected thousands of unique African artifacts––some of which date back to from 3,000 to 4,000 years. He’s working to establish a home for his collection in the new Cultural Museum of African Artifacts (CMAA) so these works can be available for everyday viewing.  

Meanwhile, the works on view at Borough Hall—and will occupy the CMAA––are displayed in a way that Edwards said gives “voice to the artifacts. We’re going to let the artifacts tell you when they were created, why they were created, and what purpose and applications they had in everyday people’s lives.” This is meant to help viewers understand the creativity of the African people who created the works. 

For example, the label Edwards wrote to describe the 19th-century Nigerian figure of an Ikenga Ancestral Shrine does not merely list the name of the object, a year it might have been made, and the materials it’s made from. Visitors to the Edwards collection learn that: 

“This is a statue of ancestral people, which is very important to the Nigerian people, as a symbol of their heritage, esteem, and strength. Its essence centers and focuses on the individual that possesses it, as an object of the strength and power of that individual. CMAAEEC has one of the largest ever produced in Nigeria, created by a small ethnic group, ‘Kinga’ of Northern Nigeria, particularly renowned for their artistic creations of Heritage power figures of their people. These carvings are symbolized by extraordinary detail and intricate engravings of the wood, to produce an amazing combination of balanced and symmetrical carvings of animalistic and human anthropomorphic forms. The medicine man carver’s work has resulted in this powerful omnipotent figure…”

Edwards started collecting and curating African art in 1971. He was inspired by the teachings of his father, who tried to instill in him and his siblings an understanding of who they are and the African culture that is in their DNA. Edwards said his father, an immigrant from Barbados, wanted to ensure that his children understood the history of Africa and its contributions to the world. He is trying to pass on that same understanding to today’s youth by sharing his collection. 

“People of African descent and their contributions are exhibited by the excellence of their creations and the workmanship that went into it,” Edwards said during a press preview of the exhibit. “Those people that were brought here over 400 years ago, in bondage—they didn’t come here as ignorant slaves. They came as people from various different parts of a huge continent which we know of as Africa, and with incredible skills. And it was those skills that were utilized to help build the United States into the powerhouse that it is today. You cannot separate the two, so we want our young people to know the history of the ancestors by putting voice to the ancestors, their contributions, and their capabilities.” 

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