New Encounters with African Art

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Kelly Stachura and Tim Fox, senior exhibition technicians from NFA Space, install work by Victor Ekpuk on the east wall of Encounters: The Arts of Africa.

As many of KAM’s repeat visitors know, the museum’s African collection gallery was completely renovated and reinstalled in 2012. Renamed Encounters: The Arts of Africa, the gallery underwent an elegant redesign with new casework, updated lighting, interactive iPad videos, and thematic groupings that greatly enhanced and enlivened visitors’ engagements with the artworks on display.

This year, with its adjacent galleries under renovation, Encounters was de-installed in order to protect the objects from the dangers of construction. Upon re-opening, visitors will notice several exciting changes in the Encounters gallery. In the Power of Script section, an Ethiopian healing scroll, borrowed from the Spurlock Museum, was taken off view to “rest” the delicate parchment’s light sensitive pigments. The Spurlock has generously offered another scroll to take its place. While the earlier scroll featured an image of the archangel Michael, its replacement is animated by a curiously ambiguous figure. Whether a holy personage or an angel disguised as a demon, gazing upon its image activates its power to heal and protect.

On the gallery’s east wall, light-sensitive photographs by artists Rotimi Fani-Kayode and Carrie Mae Weems were also rotated off view, while the jaunty, carved figure of a Baule spirit spouse was returned to its home at the Smithsonian. Mounted in their place, visitors will find a recent acquisition by KAM—a vibrant, large-scale drawing by Nigerian-born artist Victor Ekpuk. This work is paired with an indigo-dyed ukara cloth from southeastern Nigeria on loan from the Spurlock. The new thematic context that brings these two works together—An African Avant-Garde—provides a window into the aesthetic philosophies promoted by university artist-professors in the years following Nigerian independence. Also new to this section is an iPad video featuring Ekpuk at work on the ephemeral wall drawing he created at KAM in 2015.

And new to join the exhibition’s Creativity of Power thematic grouping is a brass divination bowl commissioned by members of the Oshugbo society, the transcendent arbiters of justice and morality in Yoruba culture.