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

Opening at MAD on November 17, 2010, Groundbreaking Exhibition Challenges Traditional Conceptions of “African” Aesthetic

New York, NY (September 16, 2010)

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) on November 17, 2010. Featuring the work of more than 100 artists working 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 around the world. Through furniture, architecture, textiles, fashion, jewelry, ceramics, and basketry, as well as selective examples of photography, painting, sculpture, and installation work, the exhibition actively challenges conventional notions of a singular African aesthetic and identity, and reflects the integration of African art and design without making the usual distinctions between “professional” and “artisan.”

On view through May 15, 2011, The Global Africa Project has been organized by MAD and the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

A press preview will be held on the morning of November 16. Visitors and scholars can read about the development of the project through a behind-the-scenes blog on MAD’s website ( during the exhibition, participate in an online discussion of its key issues with exhibition curators, artists, scholars and other experts in the field on a microsite called “Africa Talks” at

In conjunction with the exhibition, American designer Stephen Burks has been commissioned to create a special installation Are You a Hybrid?, which will examine the impact and influence of Africa on contemporary design. On view from February 22 through May 15, 2011, the installation is part of the MADProjects exhibition series, which explores emerging trends and innovations in the design world.

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.”

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 at MICA, The Global Africa Project showcases 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 range from such well-known figures as Yinka Shonibare, MBE, Kehinde Wiley, and Fred Wilson; to Nigerian-born, London-based fashion designer Duro Olowu, and Paris-based Togolese/Brazilian designer Kossi Aguessy, who has collaborated with 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.

“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,” notes Lowery Stokes Sims. “The exhibition addresses important questions of how these designers, craftsmen, and artists grapple with issues of commodification in art production, and the meaning and value of art in contemporary society.”

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

In order to present various dimensions of the work of African artists and artisans worldwide, The Global Africa Project is organized around several thematic ideas. These include: the phenomenon of intersecting cultures and cultural fusion; the branding and co-opting of cultural references; how art and design is promoted in the international market and the creative global scene; the use of local materials; and the impact of art-making on the economic and social condition of local communities. In addition to providing a broad framework for the exhibition’s organization, these themes will encourage audiences to discern how global African artists grapple with the commodification 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 include:

• Contemporary fashion by designers such as the Black Coffee design studio in South Africa, whose 2008 collection Everyonecanbeadesigner allowed the consumer to personalize their own style and presence; Sakina M’sa from the Comoro Islands whose Parisian clientele represents the “active, dynamic, chic, feminine, liberated and droll” woman, who is attracted to the experimentation with deconstructed apparel and multicultural references in M’sa’s designs; and Haitian-American Victor Glemaud whose menswear combines “classic masculine shapes” with “beefed-up pattern mixing” and mixes “cashmere with casual gear.”

• 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. The exhibition will also debut a new line of furniture created in Senegal from locally collected and processed recycled plastic by Bibi Seck of Birsel + Seck, a design firm based in New York City.

• The viability of traditional techniques of ceramics and basketry seen in 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; 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 transition of these techniques into the design and art arena seen in the ceramics of Magdalene Odundo, a Kenyan-British artist whose work is both highly contemporary and yet evocative of traditional Africa pottery and the exquisite beaten metal work of Ndidi Ekubia, who also lives and works in England.

• The architectural designs of Mervyn Awon of Barbados and American Jack Travis who balance modernist design with cultural ethos; the conceptual architectural drawings of Andrew Lyght of Guyana who has worked in Canada and the United States; and the symbolic allusions to furniture and architecture by Cuban-born conceptualist Alexandre Arrechea working in Spain.

• 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; and an exuberant wall piece created out of paper beads fashioned from Obama campaign literature that came out of a collaboration between American artist Algernon Miller and designer Sanaa Gateja working with the Ugandan women’s collaborative Kwetu Afrika Women’s Association Angels.

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, MICA’s Founding Director of the Center for Race and Culture, and Dean Emerita of Graduate Studies, and it is designed by Gboyega Designworks and MAD’s curator of exhibitions, Dorothy Globus.

The Global Africa Project is made possible by the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation as part of its International Cultural Engagement initiative, with additional support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Rockefeller Foundation, HSBC Bank USA, N.A., and a group of private donors. Major support for the exhibition catalogue has been provided by Basil Alkazzi, who gave additional funds in memory of Judi Hoffman.

Corporate support provided by Bloomberg. CATALOGUE
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 MICA Center for Race and Culture. The approximately 280-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 contributors include: Julie Lasky who considers design outside the showroom; José Julian Mapily who surveys architecture and the African landscape; Keith Recker who discusses artisans, traditional crafts, and the global market; Christopher Cozier (MICA ’86) who reflects on the Caribbean as a critical space for art, design, craft, and architecture; Naomi Beckwith who illuminates contemporary urban aesthetics as expressed by African diasporic artists; Tony Whitfield who provides a personal meditation on the presence of Africa in his psyche as a designer, and Judith Bettelheim who examines how the aesthetics of the masquerade informs aspects of fashion.

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, which examine how physical, digital, and physiological environments have formed and informed expressions of African identity throughout the globe. From new and unexpected re-appropriations of modernist architecture in Africa, to the past 30 years of NYC club culture, as well as the Ganguro Girl phenomenon (a Japanese subculture where young woman weave their hair into cornrows and tan to look like their favorite hip-hop stars), the series, titled “Vibrant Space,” investigates how these rich and energetic environments play a vital role in the creation, evolution, and expression of contemporary global identity.

In February 2011, MAD will present the Global Africa Market, a special “pop-up” shopping event showcasing product from selected craft and creative collaboratives operating in Africa that serve women in particular. Presented in conjunction with RTM Ltd, the consulting arm of Fairwinds Trading, Inc., which has brought the work of global artisans to market since 2004, the Global Africa Market will highlight the role of the artisan as an economic engine in African communities. A concurrent panel of artisans and sponsors will examine how this type of social entrepreneurship has become a more prevalent model of sustainability on the local level.

A number of The Global Africa Project’s artists will also participate in a unique series of intimate master classes. Ranging from haberdashery, to extreme crocheting, and Senegalese sweetgrass weaving, these Master Classes will provide museumgoers with the rare opportunity to learn directly from artists seen in the museum exhibition.

The Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), launched in October 2008, is an interactive division that researches and investigates the dynamics of race and culture and their relationships to visual art traditions and practices. One of the Center’s stated goals is to prepare students for leadership roles in the regional, national, and international art world. The Center is a site where scholars, doctoral candidates, artists, critics, musicians, actors, and historians can research or create events, exhibitions, projects, or performances that focus on the aesthetic dynamics of race and culture with the intent to break down racial barriers and build bridges of cultural understanding and meaningful and productive relationships. MICA is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art in the nation, established in 1826, and is the first school of this type to create a research center dedicated to the study of race and culture in the arts.

The Museum of Arts and Design explores how art, design, and craftsmanship intersect in the visual arts today. The Museum focuses on contemporary creativity and the ways in which artists and designers from around the world transform materials through processes ranging from the artisanal to digital. The Museum’s exhibition program explores and illuminates issues and ideas, highlights creativity and craftsmanship, and celebrates the limitless potential of materials and techniques when used by gifted and innovative artists. MAD’s permanent collection is global in scope and focuses on art, craft, and design from 1950 to the present day. At the center of the Museum’s mission is education. The Museum’s dynamic new facility features classrooms and studios for master classes, seminars, and workshops for students, families, and adults. Three open artist studios engage visitors in the creative processes of artists at work and enhance the exhibition programs. Lectures, films, performances, and symposia related to the Museum’s collection and topical subjects affecting the world of contemporary art, craft, and design are held in a renovated 144-seat auditorium.

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