National Gallery opens landmark ‘Afro Atlantic Histories’ show, with Vice President Harris in attendance

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The first work a visitor to “Afro-Atlantic Historics” encounters is a map made of stainless steel with a highly reflective surface, about 7 feet high. Hank Willis Thomas’s “Hometown (Reflection of Africa America)” represents a fictitious hemisphere where North America is directly connected to Africa by the Panama Strait and is the central theme of the new National Museum exhibition. Suggests one. How the Atlantic slave trade reconstructed geography into a vast middle space of unstable and changing identities.

Reflective surfaces mean that you can see yourself in your work, a common metaphor for fascinating the audience and inviting them to self-conscious reflexes. However, the size of the work means creating an image of the National Gallery, not just you, which seems to be the point. This is a groundbreaking show, the first time Kaiwin Feldman has been in the spotlight since taking office in 2019, clearly showing where he wants to take one of the country’s most prestigious art institutions. This is the first show.

“Afro-Atlantic Historics” was originally developed by the Museum of Art of Sao Paulo. In 2018, we saw a larger version with an emphasis on Brazil. Curator Kanitra Fletcher, who was at the Museum of Fine Arts at the time, organized a smaller tour. He has hosted geographically focused shows at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the National Museum of Fine Arts, and is currently an Associate Curator for African Americans and Aphrodite Sporic Art.

In a panel conversation on April 8, Fletcher presented this art, not only at the National Gallery, but also in the western part of the gallery, including centuries-old works by African diaspora and dating back to the colonial era about African diaspora. We talked about the importance of seeing. building. The West Building is home to a treasure trove of museum historical works that trace the orthodox history of the early Renaissance. Its normative history eliminates or erases Africans, obscures their existence, and denies their history even in the rare cases depicted in Western paintings and sculptures.

Therefore, “Afloat Atlantic History” is of great symbolic importance to the National Gallery. The National Gallery needs to showcase and express the art history of large multi-ethnic people. That iconic change in the gallery’s identity was confirmed by the Senate as the first African-American woman to sit in the Supreme Court on April 7, when Vice President Harris spoke in a gala preview. It was officially approved at that time. The National Gallery event was dazzled by a much more diverse crowd than usual. The museum’s founder’s room, right next to the main circular architecture, has been transformed into a nightclub with dance.

Four years ago, when I visited a small exhibition of Dutch marine art at a museum, I was impressed with the rough treatment of the essential facts of Dutch involvement in colonialism and the slave trade. The show focused on paintings and model ships, but curators needed to include a wide range of materials, including documents and slavery relics, to represent the larger and darker history of Dutch wealth and prosperity. bottom. Even in 2018, it would have been an institutional spread for the museum.

Now, head-on to a bigger and more painful history, curators and design styles are very different.

The walls are full of text, explaining the wide range of themes of the show and the specific details of the works on display. We learn about Quilombo, a Brazilian community that provided shelter for fleeing enslaved people, including Quilombo Dos Palmares, who survived almost a century until being oppressed by the Portuguese in 1694. Humans were traded for half a century before the American Revolution. And from the watercolor paintings of the early 19th century, it is a kind of protest about masks used to prevent enslaved people from eating soil, and suicide is slow.

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The National Gallery has traditionally been an aesthetic museum. That is, it focuses on outstanding work at academic exhibitions with exhibition styles that tend to separate and enhance art with minimal visual or textual intrusion. This makes it difficult to tackle historical and social contexts that require a wider range of documentary materials and more basic explanations. The section dedicated to portraits features classic paintings by Frederick Bazille, Théodore Géricault and Eugene Delacroix. However, there are also modern prints of lithographs, photographs, visitor charts, and archived materials. Many images, including those depicting slaves made by European artists, are included not because of their artistic excellence, but because they reveal prejudices and caricatures of the Western and colonial eras. I am.

All of this is in some spectacular juxtaposition, including a portrait of Chinke, the leader of the Amistad rebellion of Nathaniel Joselin, and Samuel Raven’s “Celebrating the Liberation of British Slaves.” They were made within about 50 years of each other in the 1830s or 1840, but they are significantly different images of freedom. Jocelyn’s portrait depicts a tinke dressed in Greco-Roman costume. This is a handsome and heroic person holding a staff member with half-naked breasts. Raven’s image is small, showing the central figure with his arms raised, ecstatic and free. However, it is a clumsy image, almost cartoonish, suggesting a crude caricature of an African-American that circulates between the 19th and 20th centuries.

So, while Joselin looked at and portrayed Chinke’s complete humanity, did Raven capture only the grotesque European parody of an anonymous person? Or was Joselin simply a better, more skilled painter? And what about the Greco-Roman filter? Did better artists tend to be equally blind and similarly typecast to real humans, even though the resulting images seemed more noble at first glance?

Throughout the exhibition, there are moments of such arrest. The gallery dedicated to religion and rituals combines the multicolored image of St. Benedict of Palermo in the 18th century with the 1962 abstraction by Ruben Valentim, which suggests the cosmology of the Afro-Brazilian religious symbol. is. Here you will find a wonderful mess of art and status, a classic statue of the first saint of African descent with a robe painted in gold, and a painting made in a 20th century visual language with very different meanings of elite expression. there is.

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“Afro-Atlantic Historics” is temporary and raises more questions than answers. The initial focus of the exhibition on Brazil remains as a response, possibly focusing on the iconographic differences between the United States and other countries, including Brazil, which did not release enslaved people until 1888. Suggests another exhibition. Everyday life shows a deeper look at the art of the Caribbean diaspora. A gallery dedicated to religious activities seeks to explore the spiritual image of syncretism and the fluid line between Christian and African religious expressions.

Therefore, “Afro-Trantic History” is the first step and represents an even earlier step in the quest for long and fruitful art that is far from what was previously the focus of the National Gallery. It’s not easy, and it’s not just because there may be institutional and traditional resistance to travel.

The National Gallery’s challenge is not just to tell new or different stories, as well as other museums with a vast collection of Western art and a powerful academic and curator superstructure. What they already know how to tell is to weave them in a properly modified old story. I’m finding a way to incorporate everyone into that image, like the reflective surface of a map of North America and Africa.

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