African Diaspora Art

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The exhibition “Afro-Atlantic Stories” is the most comprehensive look at the interaction of art between Africa and the Americas ever presented at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Curator Kanitra Fletcher, who helped curate the exhibit, said the exhibition showcases a range of artists from across the Atlantic – from Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe – from the 17th to the 21st century. century.

“It shows how integral black cultures are to the development of Western civilization, of the modern world,” Fletcher told correspondent Rita Braver.

“Conversation” (1981) by Barrington Watson is part of the exhibition “Afro-Atlantic Stories”, currently at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

CBS News

The exhibit, which began in São Paulo, Brazil, is considered so important that Vice President Kamala Harris stopped by for a visit in April. “It’s the story of the world,” Harris said, “and it’s the story of America, and for a lot of us, it’s also the story of the family.”

Early works in the exhibition focus on some of the cruellest aspects of slavery, such as a photo of an escaped slave’s scars from 1863, or a 2009 engraving by American artist Kara Walker of a slave. wearing a brutal restraint.

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“Restraint” by Kara Walker (2009). Etching with aquatint.

© Kara Walker

There are portraits of important figures, such as Joseph Cinque, who led the 1839 revolt on the Spanish slave ship Amistad, and abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

A 1936 work by Aaron Douglas, one of the leading painters of the Harlem Renaissance, illustrates both the agony of enslaved Africans and the eternal dream of freedom. Fletcher said, “You have this black man in the center, this central figure looking up at the red star, which is ostensibly the North Star.”

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Detail: “Into Bondage” by Aaron Douglas (1936). Oil on canvas.

National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection. © 2021 Heirs of Aaron Douglas/Licensed by VAGA to the Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

There are also works that celebrate the joys of everyday life, including paintings by Brazilian artist Maria Auxiliadora, and US Fletcher’s Horace Pippin said: “It shows us that the African diaspora is not only a story of slavery, that there is more to the black experience.

In 1975, Dindga McCannon painted a picture of a friend of hers, which she titled “Empress Akweke”. Braver asked, “Was her name really Empress, or did you paint her as an Empress?”

“Her name was Akweke Singho,” McCannon said, “and she gave herself the title of Empress. She had opinions, and she had no shame in making it clear where she came from, and she behaved like an empress.

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Artist Dindga McCannon shows correspondent Rita Braver her painting, “Empress Akweke”.

CBS News

For McCannon, it is particularly important to have a work in the same exhibition as one of his teachers, the famous American painter Jacob Lawrence.

Braver asked, “What’s that to you?”

“Unbelievable!” she replied. “I wish he was still alive so I could give him a big hug.”

The exhibition looks forward and backward, with images that celebrate exuberance and beauty, but also reflect ongoing struggle and activism. One of the most dramatic works is this photographic self-portrait by non-binary South African artist Zanele Muholi, who used steel wool pads to form a wreath.

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An installation view of Zanele Muholi’s 2016 mural ‘Ntozakhe II (Parktown)’, part of the exhibition ‘Afro-Atlantic Stories’.

CBS News

When asked if the photo was meant to reflect the Statue of Liberty, Fletcher said yes: “They were thinking about symbols of the nation and who could occupy them.”

And why so big? “To have the impact you see.”

And for McCannon, there is meaning in the very fact that this exhibition is presented at the museum which was designed to be the national showcase for art: “It is something that has been a long time in coming. Finally, we’re here, and that’s great, because now our audience can expand, so they’ll see a great story about African Americans in America.


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Story produced by Robyn McFadden. Publisher: Lauren Barnello.


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