Published: December 14, 2010
A groundbreaking visual examination of how African artists expressed the dynamic interactions between African and European cultures is open at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. “Through African Eyes: The European in African Art, 1500⁐resent” features 95 works of art exploring 500 years of contact. It will remain on view to January 9.
The exhibit, which debuted at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), is the first to give a wide perspective of the African point of view of Europeans, from first encounters and trade relations, to European settlements and colonization, through the contemporary years of post-independence. Sculptures, masks, utilitarian objects, textiles, photographs and paintings lent from more than 30 museums, institutions and collections give a riveting visual commentary on artistic perceptions from more than 20 African countries.
The exhibition was initiated and curated by Nii Quarcoopome, head of the department of Africa, Oceania and Indigenous Americas at DIA. As a child in the 1960s in Ghana, he witnessed first-hand the complex relationships between Africans and non-African whites.
The works of art generally take three forms: portraits of specific Europeans or images that represent a particular moment in time; images of white people as a metaphor or allusion to authority, power, brutality, wealth, literacy, etc; and utilitarian objects that Africans used to denote European or Western culture, such as guns, books and eyeglasses.
The exhibition is organized into seven sections that look at the history of the first meetings between Africans and Europeans and the ensuing relationships: economic, personal, spiritual and cultural.
In the late 1800s, representatives from 12 European countries divided Africa into colonies and established themselves as masters. Works in the exhibition reveal how Africans expressed their attitudes toward colonizers from resistance to alignment.
African artistic interpretation of the West continues today, and art forms that reflect the ongoing complex interaction with the world are also included.
The Nelson-Atkins is at 45th and Oak Streets. For information, www.nelson-atkins.org or 816-751-1278.
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