Senior Curator and Curator of Global African Art Allyson Purpura, 2018. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer, University of Illinois News Bureau

According to the release by the University of Illinois News Bureau, the CAPE award was established to recognize academic professionals for their work, personal and professional contributions. Individuals are nominated, reviewed by a committee, and finalists are sent to Chancellor Robert Jones, who selects the recipients of each year's award.

Since 2009, Purpura has curated eleven exhibitions of African art at the museum, presided over a major thematic reinstallation of KAM’s African Gallery, and most recently is the co-curator of the NEH-funded exhibition World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean—the first major traveling exhibition dedicated to the arts of the Swahili coast and their historically deep, fluid, and enduring connections across the Indian Ocean world.

Former Krannert Art Museum Director Kathleen Harleman commented in support of Purpura, "In my 35-year tenure across seven North American museums, I have found no match for her intellectually agile mind, generous and open spirit, and tireless commitment to doing the hard work of exploring new realms of thought and action." 

Purpura has enriched the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign campus by consistently presenting artwork that broadens the experience of students, faculty, and visitors by inviting them to engage art that pushes at presumptions of what African art looks like—art that references traditional African forms while expressing the hybridity and itinerancy of contemporary Africa and the African diaspora. This is evidenced by her work with contemporary artists Nnenna Okore, Victor Ekpuk, William Kentridge, Moshekwa Langa, and Allan deSouza. Purpura curated Allan DeSouza’s 2010 exhibition The Farthest Point, an exploration of the intersection of place, race, sexuality, and time; in January 2018 deSouza returned to KAM present Through the Black Country..., an exhibition that engages colonial narratives of “discovery” in the context of Brexit isolationism in Britain.

Allyson Purpura’s path-breaking work is well known in the field of curatorial studies in university art museums, and the exhibitions she has organized at KAM are considered to be important benchmarks in Africanist curatorial practice. The reinstallation of KAM’s permanent African art collection—Encounters: The Arts of Africa— received major national and international attention from scholars of African art and museum professionals, earning the Association of Art Museum Curators Award for Excellence in 2014.

World on the Horizon co-curator Prita Meier wrote of her work, "Purpura’s critical eye on issues of museology and African art in global perspectives has influenced dozens of graduate students in art history nationally—she has served on many conference panels on the topic, and her public programs and permanent collection installations are models for what can be possible with non-Western art in university museums."

Dr. Christine Kreamer, Acting Deputy and Chief Curator of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, stated, "The incorporation of both traditional and contemporary arts (which Dr. Purpura also employed in her re-installation of the Krannert’s African art collection) underscores the fluidity and relevance of the issues that artists have and continue to explore with regard to place, exchange, history, memory, and community."

Kreamer adds, "World on the Horizon looks at the centuries-old maritime trade along the Swahili coast as a catalyst for the transmission of ideas and commodities and the development of complex, cosmopolitan aesthetic systems that characterize this dynamic region. Dr. Purpura’s edited publication, which includes contributions from the most renowned scholars in the field of Swahili studies, will long serve as a major scholarly resource on this topic.

Also honored with 2018 CAPE awards were Irfan Ahmad, associate director of interdiciplinary initiatives in the College of Engineering; Bryan Dunne, professor and assistant chair of Astronomy; Lowell Gentry, principal research specialist in Agriculture in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Gioconda Guerra Perez, director of La Casa Cultural Latina, and Jonathan Thomas-Staff, clinical psychologist with the Division of Disability Resources and Education Services.

Purpura's most recent project, co-curated with Prita Meier, assistant professor of Art History at New York University, is the NEH-funded exhibition World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean which opened in Fall 2017 at Krannert Art Museum and is now on national tour to both the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and later to the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Purpura was nominated for the CAPE award by Teresa Barnes, associate professor in History and Gender & Women's Studies and director of the Center for African Studies. She is the first curator from Krannert Art Museum to receive this honor. 

Read more: University of Illinois News Bureau Release