In Context 2016: Africans in America is a new exhibition at the Goodman Gallery in Parkwood and at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, Joubert Park. Conceptualised and curated by artist Hank Willis Thomas and Goodman Gallery director Liza Essers, the group show is currently open and will take place until 17 December 2016.
The exhibition is about the artists’ complex experiences beyond their ethnic heritage or physiological location, and instead brings into focus the stories they take along with them no matter where they go.
The art speaks to “the flows, exchanges and continuities between the continent of Africa and the United States” and its theme complements the diversity of perspectives and narratives of Black Portraiture[s] III: Reinventions: Strains of Histories and Cultures, which ended on 19 November 2016, having been moved from the Wits Braamfontein Campus to Turbine Hall, Newtown, Johannesburg. Both fall under the gallery’s In Context umbrella of curatorial series.
Thomas’ 2009 artwork A Place to Call Home (Africa America) is the exhibition’s starting point, which speaks to the unique intersection of geographical, historical, political, economic and cultural associations that are evoked by the term “African American”. The exhibition showcases the work around this subject by various artists from the continent and who are of the diaspora.
“‘African American’ has typically been used to describe the descendants of enslaved Africans brought to the United States prior to the 20th century,” Thomas shared. “The 2008 election of Barack Obama – who is Kenyan and American, a literal African American – as president of the United States brought to light a new definition of the term. Over the past half century, there has been a growing population of Africans in America with different cultural and historical legacies. They are not descendants of slaves but immigrants from postcolonial countries and their children. Like many other American immigrants, they came as strivers, hoping to attain a part of the ‘American dream’ for themselves and their families. Like many other immigrants as well as African Americans, they faced prejudice, racism and discrimination, but often responded to it differently, if only because it was not a social code they were conditioned to understand. As a result, many newly minted African Americans gained a double consciousness – African and American.
“However, at the same time that Africans were coming to the US in search of opportunity, many Americans were going to the continent in search of a deeper and more conscious connection than the romantic and/or distorted representations they had been given. As a result, many of them also gained new perspectives on themselves and the cultures that forged them.”
Artists who are exhibiting include Wangechi Mutu, Alfredo Jaar, Julie Mehretu, Theaster Gates, Odili Donald Odita, Kehinde Wiley and Carrie Mae Weems, as well as Brazilian artist Paulo Nazareth and many more.