EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange City Hall hosted an open house displaying a collection of rare African artifacts and sculptures by attorney and private art collector Robert Taylor on Saturday, Feb. 11. Large, ornate masks and life-size statues adorn the first and second floors of City Hall in a museum-worthy special exhibition that captures this unique art form indigenous to Africa. East Orange Mayor Ted R. Green and East Orange City Council hosted the open house reception, in honor of Black History Month.
Taylor, an East Orange native and businessman, has collected African art for more than 20 years. Through the years, he has gained a wealth of knowledge on some of Africa’s most treasured artistic pieces, including ancient hard carvings and tribal masks. For the past 11 years, Taylor has hosted an open house for East Orange students at the Jersey Explorer Children’s Museum.
“I’m inspired by a group of fourth-graders who were intrigued in art and the sculptors,” Taylor told the Record-Transcript. “They asked, ‘How are these pieces made?’ and get answers about their history that they have not learned in school. Their perception from school and their neighborhoods become their reality.”
Taylor said he wants to share these works with the world, not have them end up in storage at a museum.
“Many of these pieces are from the 18th and 19th centuries,” Taylor said. “They deserve to be seen by the next generation as a reminder of where they originate from and what they accomplish.”
East Orange Councilman Christopher Awe and his father, Emmanuel Awe, were in attendance to witness the magnificent art pieces on display.
“I feel an immense sense of pride,” the councilman told the Record-Transcript. “This takes me back home, where I have seen a lot of these sculptures with my father.
“The kids love these. It throws them for a loop. These pieces are hundreds of years old and kids do not know about this art and their ancestors. That is why it is important to learn about this in school – certain state officials in Florida are trying to hide this history.
“You do not have to travel to different countries to see these works of art because we have them here for free,” Awe continued. “I am proud of East Orange because we have the ability to do this.”
Taylor stressed the positive effect this art and education in African history can have on children in the city.
“When our children learn about African history and where their ancestors originated, they will respect themselves,” Taylor said. “And as a byproduct, they will demand respect from others. It, it is up to us adults to teach them.”
“This is an opportunity to see art from Africa and to know our history,” Green told the Record-Transcript. “We can reflect on the struggles that we have faced here in America and see what we need to learn and what needs to be taught in the curriculum at our schools.
“When I traveled to Gambia for two months, I realized the amenities that I was taking for granted. Never again did I throw away food or water. I learned to never complain after seeing great artists carve sculptures with their bare hands.”
Green mourned the loss of some of these representative works of art to private collectors and faraway museums.
“There are African Benin bronze pieces in Europe that will never be given back.” Green said. “They sit as remnants from past wars, stolen works of art that serve as reminders of past conquests. It is truly a shame, but this is the world that we live in.”