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About the Justin and Elisabeth Lang Collection of African Art

Helmet Mask (Sowei or Ndoli Jowei), Mende peoples, Liberia/Sierra Leone, 20th century, wood. Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984 (M84-144) Photo: Synthescape
Power Figure (Nkisi Nduda), Yombe peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19th-20th century, wood, traces of red pigment, quills, resinous coating, mirror fragments, nails, iron, bells, cotton fabrics, plant fibres. Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984 (M84-356) Photo: Synthescape
Figure of a Bowl Carrier for Sango (Arugba Sango), Ongunwuyi (died around 1981), Yoruba peoples, Nigeria, around 1928, wood, pigment. Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984 (M84-146) Photo: Synthescape

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Numbering over 500 objects, the Justin and Elisabeth Lang Collection of African Art ranks among Canada’s most comprehensive. Comprised primarily of works by West and Central African peoples, it emphasizes series that articulate the creative variety and dynamism found among objects of similar purpose.

The Lang’s interest in the visual dimension of African objects distinguishes their collection from earlier North American ethnographic showcases of specimens and souvenirs assembled by missionaries and military men. European refugees who settled in Montréal, Justin (1906-1989) and Elisabeth (1914-1990) Lang held to a twentieth-century Modernist fine arts tradition that upheld the notion of aesthetic universals and embraced non-Western objects as works of art. While most of the pieces in the collection are anonymous, our research has identified the artists of two sculptures.

The objects in the Agnes’ African collection were often conceived as part of larger ensembles that included costuming and performance, contexts imperfectly conveyed through description and archival photography in exhibition spaces. The function and precise meaning of these works are changed in the museum display as they are presented to audiences unanticipated by their creators.

Our online collections database includes around 250 objects from the Lang Collection; 26 are presented in three-dimensional photography, allowing enhanced visual access to each work, and 50 entries include enriched texts prepared by Patricia Sullivan, Jennifer Strychasz and Catherine Hale. Photography/3D imaging: Paul Litherland and Synthescape. The Justin and Elisabeth Lang Collection of African Art Online Collection was made possible by a grant from the Museums and Technology Fund, Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, and by the Justin and Elisabeth Lang Foundation Fund.