CUAG signaled an interest in the collection and presentation of non-Western art early in its history by organizing the exhibitions African Art in Ottawa Collections (1994), curated by Victoria Henry, and kina, tapa, and baba tagwa: (art)ifacts from Papua New Guinea (1995), curated by Gunter Nolte.
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A cohesive group of African art was donated to the gallery by members of the Armstrong family of Ottawa (Pat and Hugh, and their daughter Jan), who collected metal work made principally by the Akan of Ghana, west Africa, much of which takes the form of cast brass geometric objects and small figures used for weighing gold. That same year, the gallery's collection of African art expanded substantially with gifts from Gilles Millaire and Berny Gordon, who together donated 63 objects originally purchased in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Among the objects in their gifts are wood masks, figurative ancestor sculptures made of stone, bone, and wood, and functional objects such as a serving spoon, bell, cane, and box.
Other African pieces came from Victoria Henry, who sold African art at Ufundi Gallery ("Ufundi" means "craftsmanship" in Swahili), which she owned and operated in Ottawa from 1975 to 1992. Henry's 1996 gift included a large ebony sculpture of two women, one combing the other's hair, made by an unknown Makonde artist from Tanzania around 1972. She later donated a selection of 43 delicate beaded objects, ranging from a nineteenth-century Xhosa beaded collar to a Zulu string dance skirt to Akamba beaded aprons and armbands.
The collection also includes 149 pre-Columbian objects, mostly pottery, donated in 1996 by Maxwell Henderson. This gift features a range of functional, decorative, and figural pottery pieces. Highlights include several Michoacan bowls with three-colour slip designs, a Nayarit male figure, a Colima globular jar adorned with an alligator in relief, a Chupicuaro deep four-footed bowl with black-and-white geometric designs on a red ground, and a striking Colima dog figure.