The National Gallery of Art's exhibition "Afro-Atlantic Histories," which focuses on the interplay of art from Africa and Americas, is the largest ever. Kanitra Fletcher was the curator and helped to organize the show. The exhibit includes a variety of artists from across the Atlantic, including those from Africa, Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe, from the 17th century through the 21st century.
Rita Braver was told by Fletcher that it showed how important Black cultures were to the development and maintenance of western civilization.
It was created in Sao Paolo in Brazil and is so important that Vice President Kamala Harris visited it in April. Harris stated, "This is world History, and it is American History, and it is, for many of you, also family history."
The show's first two works focus on the worst aspects of slavery. A photo of a runaway slave in 1863 is one example. Another image by Kara Walker, a 2009 American etching, depicts a slave wearing a cruel restraining device.
Portraits of prominent figures are included, such as Joseph Cinque, who led 1839 rebellion on the Spanish slave ship Amistad and Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
Aaron Douglas' 1936 painting, which was a prominent Harlem Renaissance painter, depicts both the horror of Africans being forced into slavery and the unfulfilled dream of freedom. Fletcher stated, "You have the Black man in center, this central figure looking upwards to the red star which is ostensibly, the North Star."
You will also find works that celebrate the joys and everyday life. These include paintings by Maria Auxiliadora from Brazil, and Horace Pippin from the U.S. Fletcher stated, "It's not just a story of slavery. It's showing that there is more than the Black experience."
Dindga McCannon, a 1975 painter of one of her friends painted the picture she called "Empress Akweke". Braver asked: "Was she really called Empress or did you paint her like an empress?"
McCannon stated that Akweke Singho was her name and she chose to be called Empress. She was open to opinions and had no shame in letting people know where she was coming. She carried herself as an Empress.
McCannon sees it as a special honor to have a work in the same exhibition as Jacob Lawrence, a noted American painter.
Braver asked Braver, "What's it like for you?"
"Incredible!" She replied. She replied, "I wish he was still alive so that I could give him an enormous hug."
This exhibit is both forward and backward. It features images that not only celebrate beauty and exuberance, but also show ongoing struggle and activism. This striking work is a photograph of Zanele Muholi (non-binary South African artist), who created a crown using steel wool pads.
Fletcher answered yes to the question, "They were thinking of the symbols of nationhood. Who gets to occupy them."
Why is this so important? "To make an impact on the world."
McCannon sees meaning in the fact that the exhibit is now on display at the museum that was created to be the nation’s showcase for art. We are finally here and it is great because our audiences can now expand so that they will see the beautiful story of African Americans living in America.
Robyn McFadden produced the story. Editor: Lauren Barnello.