Performances and Programs Highlighting Leading Artists and Scholars of the African Diaspora Planned in Conjunction with Major Afro-Atlantic Histories Exhibition
Washington, DC—In conjunction with its much-anticipated presentation of Afro-Atlantic Histories, today the National Gallery of Art announced an extensive schedule of performances, films, lectures, concerts, and community programs centered on art of the African Diaspora. The exhibition, which will be on view in Washington from April 10 through July 17, 2022, will also be accompanied by educational resources, teacher workshops, and an audio guide. Afro-Atlantic Histories will feature wall text in both English and Spanish.
In April, the John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art will welcome artists whose work appears in the exhibition to join in conversation with leading writers and historians. A coinciding John Wilmerding Community Celebration will invite audiences to experience the art and culture of the African Diaspora with music, dance, and spoken word. In May, a satellite installation in the Sculpture Garden will present Kara Walker’s Katastwóf Karavan (2018) with special performances of the work’s steam-powered calliope by Jason Moran, the Grammy-nominated pianist, composer, and Kennedy Center artistic director for jazz. Music programs will include performances by the Ghanaian multi-instrumentalist, composer, and dancer Okaidja Afroso and the Haitian American flutist, vocalist, and composer Nathalie Joachim, who will present her evening-length work for flute, voice, string quartet, and electronics, Fanm d'Ayiti.
“We are honored to invite audiences to experience the cultures of the African Diaspora through a range of programs and performances inspired by Afro-Atlantic Histories,” said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art. "This rich group of concerts, films, lectures, and resources will continue the conversations the exhibition begins and extend its impact beyond its galleries.”
The unprecedented exhibition explores the impact and legacy of the African Diaspora across four continents. Initially organized and presented in 2018 by the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), Afro-Atlantic Histories includes more than 130 artworks and documents made in Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe from the 17th to the 21st century. Afro-Atlantic Histories is co-organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Museu de Arte de São Paulo in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art. The exhibition was on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from October 24, 2021, through January 17, 2022, and will travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from December 11, 2022, through April 30, 2023, and to the Dallas Museum of Art. The National Gallery has engaged two advisory groups of scholars, artists, and community leaders to consult on exhibition content and collaborate on communications, programming opportunities, and outreach.
Exhibition Organization, Curators, and Advisory Groups
This exhibition is co-organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Museu de Arte de São Paulo in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art.
Major support for this exhibition is provided by the Ford Foundation.
Additional funding is provided by the Exhibition Circle of the National Gallery of Art and the Annenberg Fund for the International Exchange of Art.
The US tour is curated by Kanitra Fletcher, associate curator of African American and Afro-diasporic art at the National Gallery of Art. At the National Gallery, the curatorial team also includes Molly Donovan, curator of contemporary art, and Steven Nelson, dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. Adriano Pedrosa, artistic director; Ayrson Heráclito, curator; Hélio Menezes, curator; Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, adjunct curator of histories; and Tomás Toledo curated the exhibition at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo.
In Washington, the curators are working closely with two external advisory groups. One group, of local leading historians and art historians, includes Ana Lucia Araujo, professor of history, Howard University; Nicole Ivy, assistant professor of American studies, George Washington University; Kevin Tervala, associate curator of African art, Baltimore Museum of Art; Kristine Juncker, special assistant to the director, National Museum of African Art; and Michelle Joan Wilkinson, curator, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The second group includes artists and educators Martha Jackson Jarvis; Ellington Robinson; Alzira Lena Ruano; Renée Stout; and Zsudayka Nzinga, vice president of Black Artists of DC; as well as Shelly Alves, executive associate for the vice president and provost of Montgomery College's Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus; Tashira Halyard, community organizer, attorney, and blogger; and Karen Vidangos, social media specialist at the National Portrait Gallery and founder of the Latinx Art Collective.
Kara Walker's Katastwóf Karavan (2018)
As part of Afro-Atlantic Histories, a satellite installation in the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden in May will present Kara Walker’s Katastwóf Karavan (2018), a work incorporating a steam calliope, a musical instrument used in the 19th century on steamboats and in carnivals. Walker made this sculpture for the Prospect.4 Triennial in New Orleans to create a temporary memorial at Algiers Point, a site in the city along the Mississippi River which once served as a holding area for enslaved Africans. Enveloped in the artist’s signature silhouettes made from cut steel and set in a parade wagon, the steam-whistle organ will be programmed with a new automated playlist of songs of Black resistance and celebration. A schedule of live musical performances of the calliope by musician and artist Jason Moran will be announced at a later date. The Afro-Atlantic Histories exhibition also features Walker’s 2009 print Restraint.
Screening throughout the exhibition's presentation, Among Black Atlantic Cinemas will present historic and contemporary works by various international filmmakers. In exploring some of the key titles from the cinematic heritage of many nations—including Guinea-Bissau, Brazil, Cuba, Ethiopia, Senegal, and the United States, among others—this film series will begin to address legacies of resistance to slavery and white cultural hegemony. Restored titles by historic filmmakers such as Zózimo Bulbul (Brazil), Med Hondo (Mauritania), and Sarah Maldoror (French West Indies) will be presented, along with recent work by contemporary artists such as Jon Goff (Ghana/US), Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich (Jamaica/US), Arthur Jafa (US), Elissa Blount Moorhead (US), and Isaac Julien (UK), with screenings introduced by invited scholars or the artists themselves when possible.
April 24 will feature a performance by singer, songwriter, arranger, percussionist, guitarist, and traditional dancer from Ghana, Okaidja Afroso, along with his trio. His 2017 album The Palm Wine Sea brings together the deep understanding of Afroso's own musical transitions and the inspiration of Africa throughout Latin America.
On May 1, Haitian American flutist, composer and vocalist Nathalie Joachim, along with Spektral String Quartet, will present Joachim's work Fanm d'Ayiti (Women of Haiti). Commissioned by St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series, Fanm d'Ayiti is a celebration of some of Haiti's most iconic yet under-recognized female artists, as well as an exploration of Joachim's Haitian heritage. Released in 2019, the work received a Grammy nomination for Best World Music Album.
Additional outdoor performances will be announced at a later date.
In April, a virtual John Wilmerding Symposium on American Artwill gather artists and writers to reflect on how art responds to and shapes both official and overlooked narratives wrought by the transatlantic slave trade and its legacies. Conversation topics will include “The Afterlife of Slavery,” “Black Identity and American Culture,” and “Mining the Archives to Uplift Untold Stories.”
The Diamonstein-Spielvogel Lecture Series and Elson Lecture Series will give audiences opportunities to hear from artists whose work is included in Afro-Atlantic Histories. Speakers will be announced at a later date.
Several times a week, slide overviews in the West Building Lecture Hall will provide an introduction to Afro-Atlantic Histories. A schedule will be announced at a later date.
On April 30, the John Wilmerding Community Celebration will invite audiences to experience the art and culture of the African Diaspora with music, dance, and spoken word.
An exhibition audio guide featuring commentary by curators, artists, and scholars will be available for visitors free of charge, online and in the galleries. To listen in the galleries, please bring your mobile device and headphones.
Launching this spring, a digital resource created by the National Gallery and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will provide educators with inspiration and tools to integrate the content and themes of Afro-Atlantic Histories into their classrooms. Available on both the National Gallery and NEH’s websites, the resource will pair works from the exhibition with discussion questions and curricular connections. Developed in collaboration with an advisory group of history and art educators from across the United States, the resource will be geared toward secondary-level history educators but applicable for additional grade levels.
Virtual teacher workshops will pair an introduction to Afro-Atlantic Histories with presentations by thought leaders, demonstrations of teaching strategies, and examples of how teachers can use the exhibition and its resources in their virtual or in-person classrooms. Ready-to-use, adaptable resources will be available for teachers to replicate and incorporate into their own lesson planning. Registration is available beginning February 1 at nga.gov/teacherworkshops.
Afro-Atlantic Histories juxtaposes works by artists from 24 countries, representing evolving perspectives across time and geography through major paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, photographs, time-based media art, and ephemera. The range extends from historical paintings by Frans Post, Jean-Baptiste Debret, and Théodore Gericault to contemporary works by Ibrahim Mahama, Kara Walker, and Melvin Edwards.
The US tour further builds on the exhibition's overarching theme of histórias—a Portuguese term that can encompass both fictional and nonfictional narratives of cultural, economic, personal, or political character. The term is plural, diverse, and inclusive, presenting viewpoints that have been marginalized or forgotten. The exhibition unfolds through six thematic sections that explore the varied histories of the Diaspora.
Maps and Margins illustrates the beginnings of the slave trade as it unfolded across the Atlantic between Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Highlights include artworks that reference thewidely reproduced British abolitionist illustration Description of a Slave Ship (1789), which precisely details a slave ship's cargo hold, and Aaron Douglas's painting Into Bondage (1936), a powerful portrayal of the moment when a group of Africans are taken to a slave ship bound for the Americas.
Enslavements and Emancipations examines how the abuses of commercial slavery triggered rebellion, escape, and abolitionist movements. Theodor Kaufmann's On to Liberty (1867) portrays women and children fleeing through the woods—a scene that Kaufmann, who served as a Union solider during the American Civil War, witnessed firsthand. Torturous practices are addressed in works that range from The Scourged Back, a widely published 1863 photograph, to the 2009 etching Restraint, a powerful image of a silhouetted figure in an iron brindle, by American artist Kara Walker. Samuel Raven's Celebrating the Emancipation of Slaves in British Dominions, August 1834 (c. 1834) presents a romanticized tribute to emancipation, while Ernest Crichlow's portrait of Harriet Tubman honors the fearless liberator and “conductor” of the Underground Railroad.
Everyday Lives features images of daily life in Black communities during and after slavery, in realistic and romanticized views. Among 20th-century artists, American Clementine Hunter and Brazilian Heitor dos Prazeres depict daily life and friendships. American Romare Bearden draws inspiration from the rhythmic and improvised staccato of jazz and the blues for his depiction of a sharecropper in the monumental collage Tomorrow I May Be Far Away (1967). The pastoral painting Landscape with Anteater (c. 1660), by Dutch artist Frans Post, places enslaved laborers and Indigenous peoples in an idyllic Brazilian landscape.
Rites and Rhythms features works about celebrations and ceremonies in the Americas and the Caribbean. Often recreating African traditions, these rites became channels for worship and communication. 20th-century Uruguayan artist Pedro Figari frequently portrayed his country's Candombe dances, which originated with descendants of enslaved Africans. Dominican artist Jaime Colson's lively Merengue (1938) pays homage to his country's national dance and music, a blend of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and African movements. Other works in this section of the exhibition explore Carnival, African-based religions, and the historical Black presence in Christianity.
Portraits spotlights Black leaders of the 18th and 19th centuries who have not traditionally been memorialized in historical American and European portraiture. Dalton Paula's Zeferina (2018), commissioned for the original presentation at MASP, provides a face to the influential leader of a slave rebellion who was arrested and sentenced to death before she could be commemorated. Other works feature ordinary people, invented figures, and the artists themselves, including the unconventional Self-Portrait (as Liberated American Woman of the '70s) (1997) by Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso, which challenges our understanding of self-portraiture.
Resistances and Activisms examines the continuing fight for freedoms. Banners, flags, and textiles referring to histories of resistance across the Afro-Atlantic invoke cultural, political, religious, and artistic identities. They Shouted Black at Me (1978), a video by Peruvian artist Victoria Santa Cruz, is a powerful renunciation of colorism and racism through poetry and dance inspired by the artist's own history. Other works in this section draw attention to Black activism, including Glenn Ligon's painting Untitled (I Am a Man) (1988), inspired by signs carried in the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike protesting unsafe working conditions and low wages, and March on Washington (1964), a rare figurative painting by Alma Thomas that recalls her experience attending the storied demonstration.
MASP has produced an expanded edition of its 2018 exhibition catalog for the US tour. Afro-Atlantic Histories includes essays by Vivian Crockett, Kanitra Fletcher, Ayrson Heráclito, Hélio Menezes, Adriano Pedrosa, Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, and Deborah Willis. It is published by MASP and Delmonico Books. The book will be available for purchase in the National Gallery Shops, online at shop.nga.gov, or at (800) 697-9350.
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