Print Study Room: Voices and Spaces in Contemporary African Art

Students in this course explored the definition and representation of contemporary African art and artists from the mid-20th century to the present. Despite the West’s long history of misrepresenting Africa as a site of “primitive tribes” and poverty, living artists from the continent have been gaining recognition for their work in their home countries and internationally. Together, we considered issues of nationalism, globalization, and the role of art museums in reinforcing or disrupting the canon of African art, and engaged virtually with global artists, curators, and critics.

Assignment

For their final project, students acted as co-curators in small groups and organized online exhibitions that included works of contemporary African art now in the Tang Teaching Museum collection. These exhibition ideas were created with the COVID-19 pandemic and attendant regulations regarding masks and social distancing in mind. In the process of their research and presenting exhibition proposals to their peers, many students considered how contemporary African art engages museums and exhibitions, gender and sexuality, and racial identity.

Black and white photograph of a person in the nude looking intensely at the camera and whose dark skin is emphasized.
Zanele Muholi, HeVi, Oslo from Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness), 2016, gelatin silver print, 39 ½ x 29 ¾ inches, Tang Teaching Museum collection, purchased with generous funding from Nancy Herman Frehling ’65 and Leslie Cypen Diamond ’96, 2016.30.2
Yordy Cabrera ’22 and Laura Bussemaker ’22
This art piece Hevi, Oslo is from a series of black and white self-portraits that Zanele Muholi created over a period of time. The series is called Somnyama Ngonyama which translates to “Hail the Dark Lioness”. Our exhibition proposal, titled Sustain and Affirm, aims to explore different facets of identity in contemporary African self-portraiture. Two other artworks that we chose to include are Samuel Fosso’s Le rêve de mon Grand Père and Omar Victor Diop’s Dom Nicolau, 1830-1860. Each of these three works explores a different way of thinking about one’s identity such as a familial or historical lens, or in Muholi’s case, one that explores self-identity. Muholi’s piece contributes to our exhibition’s theme through the way that they turn the camera on themselves, confronting the viewer’s conceptions of identity.
Photographic collage of person with black and white designs painted on their face with a head surrounded by flowers and fruit in a decorative fashion.
Atong Atem, Fruit of the Earth, 2016, digital C-print on Dibond, Ed. 3/12, 45 x 30 inches, Tang Teaching Museum collection, purchase, 2017.12
Julia Heineman ’21, Dineh Pandian ’23, and Naima Nigh ’23
Our proposed exhibition, Reclaiming Femininity, focuses on Black women’s efforts to eradicate preimposed notions of gender and race. We picked three artists from the African diaspora who oppose the commodification and exploitation of Black female bodies. Their works aim to show how women in the diaspora have redefined their identities and shifted narratives and mindsets in recognition of the rights and power of women and girls. The works included in our exhibition are Atong Atem’s Fruit of the Earth, Wachengi Mutu’s Yo Mama, and Peju Alatise’s Flying Girl. Our proposed location for this exhibition is the contemporary art museum MASS MoCA. We believe this location could help us promote these artists and bring the conversation regarding Black femininity to new spheres.
Collaged image of women’s legs cut out from a magazine over a copy of a medical drawing with a big scull over the top made from black glitter.
Wangechi Mutu, Ovarian Cysts from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors, 2006, collage on digital print, 23 x 17 inches, Tang collection, Tang Teaching Museum collection, gift of Michael Jenkins and Javier Romero, 2016.27.4
Katie Compson ’21 and Jenny Freedman ’23
Our exhibition centers around perceptions and experiences of gender in contemporary African art. Our goal is to explore three different artists’ representations of gender and womanhood in particular. We hope to invite questions on the meaning of gender and its social significance as well as explore the different lenses in which indivuduals experience and perceive womanhood. We seek to explore what lens each artist uses to approach the theme of gender and to define the differences and intersections between the separate works. We chose Wangechi Mutu’s Ovarian Cysts because her work deals with Black womanhood through the lens of historical objectification, which is one of the representations we are interested in exploring.
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