Making African Art, 1957-1977

In 1957, Ghana became the first African country to declare independence from its colonizers, spearheading a wave of political uprisings across the continent. By 1970, forty-five of today’s fifty-four African states had regained their independence. The autonomy of these nations coincided with artistic revolutions. Everywhere, artists began rethinking their relationship to the new nation state, to the African continent and to a world fractured by the Cold War.

Making African Art, 1957-1977 explores how modern African artists were at the forefront of these critical conversations. The exhibition showcases the unique contexts of seven countries–Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Zimbabwe–across the continent, and explores their connections and differences through a focus on Pan-African festivals of art and culture that were held in Senegal in 1966, in Algeria in 1969, and in Nigeria in 1977. These week-long celebrations provided unique moments when artistic resonances could be explored: among artists based on the continent, those living in the diaspora, and with African American artists deeply interested in African culture. Artists such as Lois Mailou Jones, John Biggers, Jacob Lawrence and others traveled to the continent, forging connections with their African counterparts that would shape the art history of both continents.

The Cold War is another important theme that runs through the project. With the independence of African nations came renewed political interest from the United States and the Soviet Union, vying for allegiance from non-aligned nations. State-funded projects such as American Society for African Culture and Peace Corps provided opportunities for Americans to encounter Africa and vice versa. Making African Art, 1957-1977 will demonstrate how these interactions significantly shaped art practices on the continent, and the collection and study of African art in the United States and former Soviet Union.

The exhibition will bring together a number of unprecedented loans from museums and private collections in Africa, the majority of which have never been shown in the United States. It will be accompanied by a scholarly catalog, with contributions by specialists in the field.