Home Leisure & Sports Fisk University Galleries exhibition opens ahead of Homecoming 2022  

Fisk University Galleries exhibition opens ahead of Homecoming 2022  

by Cass Teague
Ana Mmuo (Land of the Dead) Uche Okeke, 1933-2016, born Nigeria Oil on board. H x W (unframed): 91.6 x 121.9 cm (36 1/16 x 48 in.) Other (framed): 93.2 x 123.5 x 4.1 cm (36 11/16 x 48 5/8 x 1 5/8 in.) Gift of Joanne B. Eicher and Cynthia, Carolyn Ngozi, and Diana Eicher 97-3-1. © 1961 Uche Okeke. (Photograph by Franko Khoury). National Museum of African Art Smithsonian Institution Courtesy Professor Uche Okeke Legacy Limited and American Federation of Arts

The American Federation of Arts (AFA) and the Fisk University Galleries opened “African Modernism in America” last month. It is the first major traveling exhibition to examine the complex relationships between modern African artists and American patrons, artists, and cultural organizations amid the tumultuous interlocking histories of civil rights, decolonization, and the Cold War.

This exhibition features more than 70 artworks by nearly 50 artists that exemplify the connections between the new art that emerged in Africa during the 1950s and 1960s and American art and cultural politics. Seen together, these objects reveal a transcontinental network of artists, curators, and scholars that challenged assumptions about African art in the United States, and thereby encouraged American engagement with African artists as contemporaries.

Drawn in large measure from Fisk University’s remarkable collection of gifts from the Harmon Foundation, “African Modernism in America” presents paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, which provides audiences an opportunity to view the modernist artworks of some of the most important African artists of the mid-twentieth century, including Ben Enwonwu (Nigeria), Gerard Sekoto (South Africa), Ibrahim El-Salahi (Sudan), and Skunder Boghossian (Ethiopia).

“We are thrilled to present and tour African Modernism in America in partnership with American Federations for the Arts.” Says Jamaal B. Sheats, Associate Provost of Art & Culture, Director of Galleries, Fisk University. “The exhibition celebrates the legacy of the contributions of artists on the African continent and across the diaspora. It speaks to the exchange of ideas amid the backdrop of decolonization, the Cold War, and the civil rights Movement. The tour illuminates the significance of this cultural material. Bringing into focus the reference and reinsertion of these artists, in contextualizing the narratives of art histories. My hope is that this exhibition will inspire its audience and foster opportunities for continued research and scholarship.” 

Akinọla Laṣekan (Nigerian, 1916-1972), Ogendengbe of Ilesha, ca. 1958-59, Oil on canvas, Framed: 27 x 34 3/4 inches, Fisk University Galleries, Nashville, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1991.1121, Courtesy the Lasekan Family and American Federation of Arts

African Modernism in America debuted at the Fisk University Galleries, Nashville on October 7, 2022 and will be on view there until February 11, 2023. It then travels to the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO (March 10 – August 6, 2023); The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC (October 7, 2023 – January 7, 2024); and the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, OH (February 10 – May 19, 2024).

“This exquisite exhibition tells the untold story of a transcontinental artistic interchange between Africa and America,” says Pauline Forlenza (formerly Willis), Director & CEO, American Federation of Arts. “We are honored to partner with our colleagues from Fisk University Galleries to bring this exhibition to multiple institutions along the East Coast and in the Midwest. We invite audiences to engage with this enticing multimedia exhibition that will challenge the assumptions about African art and its influences.”

Curators for the exhibition include Perrin M. Lathrop, Nikoo Paydar, and Jamaal Sheats. The fully illustrated scholarly exhibition catalogue, edited by Lathrop, serves as one of a small but growing number of reference works on African Modernism., featuring new essays by leading scholars and critical biographies of the featured artists, and an interview with the late artist and educator David C. Driskell.

Homecoming Week at Fisk runs November 6 through November 12. See the Fisk website for details about the exhibition and Homecoming activities: fisk.edu

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