African aesthetics generally has a moral basis, as indicated by the fact that in many African languages the same word means "beautiful" and "good." It is consistent with the use and meaning of African art that it should be both beautiful and good, because it is intended not only to please the eye but to uphold moral values. The ethical and religious basis of African art may explain why the principal subject is the human figure; African art often appears in ritual contexts that deal with the vital moral and spiritual concerns of the human condition.
It is important, furthermore, to display most African sculpture, especially masks and headdresses, in the round at about eye level, because this is how they are seen on the heads of dancers. African carvers try to make masks and headdresses appear visually interesting and to show different aspects as the dancer revolves before the people.
The objects selected for this exhibit were chosen both to exemplify African aesthetic and moral principles and to display some of the finest pieces in the Bayly's large collection. Most of the pieces in the exhibit come from West African societies.
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