The Global Africa Project Explores the Impact of African Visual Culture on Contemporary Art, Craft, and Design around the World at the Museum of Arts and Design

New York, NY – An unprecedented exhibition exploring the broad spectrum of contemporary African art, design, and craft worldwide, The Global Africa Project premieres at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) this November. Featuring the work of over 60 artists in Africa, Europe, Asia, the United States, and the Caribbean, The Global Africa Project surveys the rich pool of new talent emerging from the African continent and its influence on artists around the world. Through ceramics, basketry, textiles, jewelry, furniture, and fashion, as well as selective examples of architecture, photography, painting, and sculpture, the exhibition actively challenges conventional notions of a singular African aesthetic or identity, and reflects the integration of African art and design without making the usual distinctions between “professional” and “artisan.”

On view from November 17, 2010, through May 15, 2011, The Global Africa Project is co-curated by Lowery Stokes Sims, the Museum’s Charles Bronfman International Curator, and Leslie King-Hammond, Founding Director of the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Visitors and scholars can track the development of the project and participate in an online discussion of key issues related to exhibition through an interactive and behind-the-scenes blog on MAD’s website at

“The Global Africa Project charts important new territory in the field by actively looking beyond restrictions of traditional art historical groupings, including medium, geography, and artistic genre,” states Holly Hotchner, the Museum’s Nanette L. Laitman Director. “By many measures, this exhibition is entirely unprecedented and it is a landmark moment in our history. As a museum that has long challenged the hierarchies separating art, craft, and design, we are delighted to introduce these new explorations of contemporary African art and aesthetics.”

The exhibition will showcase a diverse group of creators, including artists who are experimenting with the fusion of contemporary practices and traditional materials, and design collectives that are using their creative output as engines of local economic change. Featured artists and designers range from well-known figures such as Yinka Shonibare, Kehinde Wiley, and Fred Wilson; to fashion designer Duro Olowu, who is an important presence in the London fashion scene, and Paris-based Togolese/Brazilian designer Kossi Aguessy, who has collaborated with Renault, Yves Saint Laurent, Cartier, and Swarovski; to the Gahaya Links Weaving Association, a collaborative of Hutu and Tutsi women working in traditional basketry techniques in Rwanda. The Global Africa Project will be accompanied at MAD by a special installation, Are You a Hybrid?, curated by designer Stephen Burks. Exploring the impact and influence of Africa on contemporary design, it will be on view from February through April 2011. The installation is part of the MADProjects exhibition series, which explores emerging trends and innovations in the design world.

“Given the nomadic, even migratory, nature of artistic careers today, the interesting challenges of presenting an exhibition like The Global Africa Project are indicated in its very title,” stated curator Lowery Stokes Sims. “The exhibition addresses important questions of how these designers, craftsmen, and artists grapple with issues of commoditization in art production, and the meaning and value of art in contemporary society.”

“No longer are these artists viewed as part of the periphery of the main stream art world,” Leslie King-Hammond added. “This work redefines a new center of creativity and innovation for the twenty first century.”

In order to present the various dimensions of the work of African artists and artisans worldwide, The Global Africa Project will be organized around several thematic ideas: the phenomenon of cultural fusion; promoting competition on the creative global scene; fostering the use of local materials; supporting artisans and craftsman; and impacting the economic and social condition of local communities. In addition to providing a broad framework for the exhibition’s organization, these themes will encourage The Global Africa Project’s audiences to discern how global African artists grapple with the commoditization of art production and the meaning and value of art in society—an increasingly significant issue for nations in a rapidly changing global context.

Exhibition highlights will include:

• Influential collaborations between traditional African artists and international designers and corporations, including Esther Mahlangu’s BMW Art Car, in which she transformed the 1991 car model with the bold shapes and colors typical of Ndebele house painting in her native South Africa.

• Installations, sculptures, and objects that incorporate and appropriate materials that have come to Africa as the “cargo” of international exchange—including packaging and manufactured items. Among these works will be furniture designed by Ousmane M’Baye of Senegal and a new site-specific installation by Nigerian artist Olu Amoda, who transforms scrap metal to construct security gates for buildings in his community.

• Contemporary fashion by such designers as Haitian-American Victor Glemaud, who designs women’s wear for Tommy Hilfiger, and the Black Coffee design studio in South Africa, whose 2008 collection “Everyonecanbeadesigner” allows the consumer to personalize their own style and presence.

• Ceramic vessels and basketry designs, such as the sweet-grass baskets of American Mary Jackson, whose work reflects a centuries-old tradition from West Africa; basketry by the renowned master weaver Reuben Ndwandwe of South Africa who revitalized this medium with his unique over-coiling technique; ceramics of Magdalene Odundo, a Kenyan-British artist whose work is both highly contemporary and yet evocative of traditional Africa pottery; and the work of ceramist Clive Sithole, also of South Africa, who dared as a man to take up a medium traditionally associated with women.

The Global Africa Project is organized by the Museum of Arts and Design and the Center for Race and Culture, Maryland Institute College of Art. The exhibition is co-curated by Lowery Stokes Sims, MAD’s Charles Bronfman International Curator, and Leslie King-Hammond, Founding Director of the Center for Race and Culture.

Following its premiere at MAD, the exhibition will travel to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore, MD. The exhibition will continue to travel to three other sites throughout the US through February 2013.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated, four-color publication to be published jointly by the Museum and Prestel Publishers, in association with the Maryland College of Arts Center for Race and Culture. The approximately 230-page book will feature an introduction by MAD director Holly Hotchner; curatorial essays by Lowery Stokes Sims and Leslie King-Hammond; as well as contributions from scholars and curators who are conversant with the intersections between contemporary design, architecture, craft, art, and national and cultural craft practices. These contributions include: Julie Lasky on design outside the showroom; José Julian Mapily, who will survey architecture and the African landscape; Keith Recker, who will discuss artisans, traditional crafts, and the global market; Christopher Cozier, who will consider the Caribbean as a critical space for art, design, craft, and architecture; Naomi Beckwith, who will illuminate contemporary urban aesthetics as expressed by African diasporic artists; Anthony Whitfield, who will examine design trends and issues of design among global Africans; and Judith Bettelheim on the aesthetics of the masquerade and its importance to African diasporic art.

In addition to the Museum’s on-going schedule of curator and docent-led tours, special programming for The Global Africa Project will include a series of lectures and panel discussions on topics including: the position of various sites in the global African world in contemporary design and craft; whether or not an overarching “African” aesthetic exists; the unique place of craft artisans and collaborative in the contemporary marketplace; and Africa as a motif and force in contemporary design, craft and art. Programming plans will be announced in detail in the coming months.

In conjunction with the exhibition, The Store at MAD will organize a special Global Africa Market to sell products by individuals and collectives who are participating in the exhibition and are transforming their artistic skills into a source of social and economic empowerment.



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