Aaron Douglas’ Into Bondage, 1936. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.
The National Gallery of Art, which began its life as a vast collection of Impressionist and other European artists, has spent the last few years looking for ways to change its approach and become a more diverse place less constrained by the classics. . A multimedia show slated to open next year may be the biggest milestone yet.
Opening at the gallery on April 10, 2022, Afro-Atlantic stories describe the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade across the African diaspora. The exhibition was presented for the first time at the Museu de Arte in SÃ£o Paulo, Brazil. It presents 130 paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos and documents from artists representing 24 countries on both sides of the Atlantic. The artwork spans 500 years, dating back to the start of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the 1600s.
Rather than classifying the exhibition by chronology, geography or artist, the pieces are grouped into six themes: Maps and margins, Enslavements and emancipations, Daily life, Rites and rhythms, Portraits and Resistances and activism. The concept-oriented design aims to create a visual discussion between images across history and perspectives, challenging the idea of ââa singular narrative that defines the African diaspora.
It’s a break with the old museum tradition – rather than focusing on a single artist or a single school, Afro-Atlantic stories contrasts a variety of perspectives across genre, time and geography, with creators including French painter Jean-Baptiste Debret, Ghanaian installation artist Ibrahim Mahama and American silhouette artist Kara Walker .
âWe really put all of these different voices into the conversation – transhistoric and transnational conversations – to create that dialogue,â says Kanitra Fletcher, who in January became the gallery’s first-ever curator of African-American and Afro-Diasporic art. .
Even the location of the exhibit in the museum’s west building is meant to rethink conventions. In the past, the West Building, which houses the gallery’s European paintings and sculptures, housed the more traditional traveling exhibitions, while most of the more daring were in the Modernist East Wing. Putting this show in the same building as original benefactor Paul Mellon’s Monets and Seurats is meant to send a message.
âIt creates space for the presence of blacks and Africans and how they have been integral in the development of the so-called Western civilization,â says Fletcher.
In addition to the exhibition, NGA is organizing a series of lectures, performances and digital programs to accompany the artistic demonstration. Afro-Atlantic stories will be open from April 10, 2022 to July 17, 2022.