Create to Free Yourselves: Abraham Lincoln and the History of Freeing Slaves in America
In the Fall of 2021, internationally renowned Cotonou-based artist Georges Adéagbo (b. 1942) came to the Smithsonian on a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship. He researched collections related to President Abraham Lincoln at the National Museum of American History, where he was able to come in contact with his death mask, top hat, pocket watch and other potent mementos. This led to a collaboration between the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and President Lincoln’s Cottage, an historic museum here in DC. For it, the legendary conceptual artist brings his trademark skill with interrogating and activating archives to create a site-specific installation opening January 17, 2023 at Lincoln Cottage and remaining on view for the month-long special exhibition, Create to Free Yourselves: Abraham Lincoln and the History of Freeing Slaves in America.
Adéagbo has long been personally intrigued by President Lincoln as an icon of emancipation, and this project will explore Lincoln’s legacy of liberation and creativity. The objects in the exhibit—including books, newspapers, handwritten notes, and artwork created by a team of artists in Benin–have relationships with one another, with their creators, and with the space itself. This intersection of relationships becomes the fertile ground for Adéagbo’s unique messaging. The objects themselves cannot be understood outside of this web of meaning, a web that redefines the space and transforms it into a work of art. This process becomes an act of artistic self-liberation.
Time-lapse video of the installation
The installation took over 10 days to complete. Enjoy this video of the process.
This exhibition is part of the museum’s efforts to work with Africa’s art and artists around the world and to engage global African audiences in new and dynamic spaces.
Curated by Michael Mason, Director, Lincoln Cottage, with Karen E. Milbourne, Senior Curator, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art
All photos by: Stephan Koehler
Time-lapse produced by Marc Bretzfelder