Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa’s Arts
Opens November 4, 2017
Visionary ideas propel the greatest human accomplishments.
Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa’s Arts, the National Museum of African Art’s most recent, large-scale presentation of its collection, is the first to offer broad thematic connections between artworks across the spectrum of time, place, and medium. Visionary aims to get visitors to look with fresh and focused insight and, in so doing, to see works of art—and each other—with new eyes.
Visionary is organized around seven viewpoints, each of which serves to frame and affect the manner in which Africa’s arts are experienced. With a room devoted to each viewpoint, the installation presents the museum’s holdings from the perspective of collectors, scholars, artists, sponsors, performers, museums—and you, the visitor.
The exhibition will feature over 300 works of art, organized around the central activity of looking—looking closely at issues of technique and creative expression, looking broadly at the varied lives these assembled objects have lived, and looking critically at how new contexts shift how we see artworks. From sculpture, painting, and photography to ceramics, costumes, drawing, jewelry, performance, printmaking, and video, Visionary aims to present the broadest possible range of Africa’s creative visual expressions.
Together, these perspectives offer new insights into the museum’s permanent collection, which has, for over half a century, helped to shape what the world knows and values about Africa’s arts. With regularly rotating space featuring new acquisitions, Visionary will offer a new stage on which to see Africa’s past and imagine its future.
A confident woman in a scarlet dress and matching hat emerges from a swirling backdrop of blue and black. She holds a pair of binoculars as she looks purposefully off into the distance—unaware or unconcerned that someone may be looking at her. Yiadom-Boakye’s large-scale images are not portraits. Instead, they are fictional characters within an emerging world developed and shared by the artist. Her titles seem to heighten the tension between the reality and fiction of her characters. Womanology 12 suggests there might be earlier works in a series we have yet to encounter. The artist has dropped us into the middle of a story for which we must imagine the past and future.
This work’s distinctive stylistic features allow connoisseurs to link its origin to other works that came out of a mid-nineteenth-century Luba atelier near Mulongo. Commissioned to preserve intricate hairstyles during sleep, its female figures may represent vidye—the twin guardian spirits of Luba royalty—that connected their owner with spiritual realms while dreaming. It is a vision of the artistic insights around which the exhibition pivots.