Exhibition of Multimedia Works of Art by 28 Modernist and Contemporary Artists From 10 African Countries
“I Am… Contemporary Women Artists of Africa” will open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art June 20. Featuring works by 27 of Africa’s leading modern and contemporary artists, all of whom are women, this exhibition highlights the vital contributions of women to numerous issues, including the environment, identity, politics, race, sexuality, social activism, faith and more. Taking its name from the 1970s feminist anthem, “I Am Woman,” this exhibition updates and broadens perspectives on women making art. The exhibition continues through July 5, 2020.
Each of the exhibition’s 30 works of art come from the permanent collection of the National Museum of African Art. Incorporating paintings, sculpture, ceramics, high fashion, fiber arts, video projection and installation pieces, the exhibition showcases the technical sophistication and range of Africa’s artists.
The museum began collecting modern and contemporary art from its earliest days in the 1960s. A collections assessment five years ago revealed that only 11% of the named artists in the exhibition were women. Since then, the percentage of women represented in the museum’s collection has risen to 22%. This exhibition is part of a standing commitment by the museum to increase the representation of women in the arts through exhibitions, publications, programs, accessions and professional advancement.
“The works of art and artists included in ‘I Am… Contemporary Women Artists of Africa’ reveal the compelling contributions of women to the issues that have defined their times,” said curator Karen E. Milbourne. “It also offers insights into one institution’s efforts to strengthen the diversity and inclusion of the artists represented within its collection.”
“This museum is dedicated to the fullness of Africa’s history, from ancient to contemporary times, and doing justice to this rich history is not possible without attention to the women who have shaped it,” said Gus Casely-Hayford, director of the museum.
“I Am… Contemporary Women Artists of Africa” is part of an ongoing women’s initiative by the National Museum of African Art that has also yielded the exhibition and publication, “Good as Gold.”
Three of the artists—Chief Nike Davies Okundaye of Nigeria, Patience Torlowei of Nigeria and Billie Zangewa of South Africa—will attend the June 18 press preview.
Educational Programs and Outreach
Public programs will accompany the exhibition throughout its run to engage the museum’s diverse audiences from K–12 to adult. The exhibition will open Thursday, June 20, with a special program featuring Okundaye and Zangewa. As part of the opening festivities, the first 50 visitors to post to the exhibition’s social media links (#IAMnmafa, @IAMnmafa) will be enrolled in a raffle to win free copies of the book. Okundaye will also offer a public workshop at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 22, to kick off the museum’s Summer Solstice celebrations.
The curator will conduct a “first look” public tour of exhibition highlights Saturday, June 22, at 2 p.m. Visitors should meet at the museum’s visitor desk on the Pavilion level at 2 p.m.
An illustrated, scholarly publication by Milbourne will be forthcoming later in the summer (PDFs can be provided to the media upon request until then).
The National Museum of African Art’s retail store is filled with inspiring gifts and a wide assortment of products reflecting the museum’s extraordinary collection. Visitors will have the opportunity to discover and shop a unique collection of products from jewelry to home décor to books produced by women from across Africa and its diaspora.
About the National Museum of African Art
The National Museum of African Art is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of Africa’s arts across time and media. The museum’s collection of over 12,000 artworks represents the diversity of the African continent and includes a variety of media—from sculpture and painting, to photography, pottery, jewelry, textile, video and sound art. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. The museum is located at 950 Independence Ave. S.W., near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. For more information, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the National Museum of African Art’s website. For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000. Follow the museum on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook and join in the discussion about the exhibition on social media using #IAMnmafa, @IAMnmafa.