The Collector, a new documentary short by New York City-based filmmaker Mark Zemel, tells the story of Eric Edwards, a former AT&T executive who keeps a 1,600-piece collection of African art in his Clinton Hill apartment (alongside smaller-scale collections of baseball cards, antique clocks, and over 40,000 LPs).
Zemel's documentary is as much about Edwards's artifacts as it is about the lengths he'll go to acquire them. Like the Cameroonian ceremonial helmet that Edwards bought, on the condition that Cameroonian emissaries could perform a ceremony with it inside his apartment. "If it's within my grasp, and I know that's something I want, I go after it with full voracity," he says.
Edwards's African collection includes tools, ceremonial masks, and weapons, and has been accumulating for the past 44 years and counting. The collection represents all 54 countries in Africa, with artifacts dating back to the Nubian empire. Edwards estimates that the lot is worth $10 million. His Nigerian Palace Drum will go on display at the Met on May 20th—the second of Edwards's Nigerian drums to join the museum's collection.
As for how he became an African art collector, Edwards explains, "My father knew that we [his kids] would experience racism, and he wanted to inoculate us from feeling less important than anyone else. His way of doing that was to teach us African history, which later in life led me to collecting African art."
Edwards is currently seeking backers for an African art museum in Brooklyn, which he hopes to open next summer under the name The Cultural Museum of African Art. He's already secured architect Rodney Léon for the project, who designed the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan.
With the museum, Edwards hopes to secure his collection, long after he's gone. But for now, "I live with my art," he says. "It's part of what gives me sustenance, and direction, and sanity. All of the pieces that you see around here represent my psyche."
Zemel hopes to produce a longer documentary series about collectors, of which The Collector will be the first installment.