UMMA exhibition challenges traditional understanding of African arts and cultures

The University of Michigan Museum of Art repositions Africa and its artists at the center of complex cross-cultural exchange for centuries with the new exhibition Beyond Borders: Global Africa, opening this month.

Omar Victor Diop, Jean-Baptiste Belley (1746-1805), 2014, pigment inkjet print on Harman by Hahnemühle paper. Courtesy of Mott-Warsh collection, Flint, Michigan and MAGNIN-A Gallery, Paris, © Omar Victor Diop

Bringing together paintings, photographs, sculpture and installations created in Africa, Europe and the United States from the 19th to the 21st centuries, Beyond Borders: Global Africa features approximately 40 works of art drawn from UMMA's African art collection and from private and public holdings around the world, including the eminent Contemporary African Art Collection assembled by Jean Pigozzi of Geneva, Switzerland.

The exhibition explores issues such as slavery, colonization, migration, racism and identity through works by Kudzanai Chiurai, Omar Victor Diop, Seydou Keïta, Houston Maludi, Nandipha Mntambo, Fabrice Monteiro, Wangechi Mutu, Sam Nhlengethwa, Serge Alain Nitegeka, Alison Saar, Chéri Samba, Kehinde Wiley, and a host of unrecorded artists.

"Beyond Borders presents UMMA's distinguished collection of historical and contemporary African art, along with outstanding international loans, to ask questions about what it means to be an 'African' artist and make 'African' art," said UMMA Director Christina Olsen.

Works on view include a video of the South African artist Nandipha Mntambo as a combined bullfighter and bull; Senegalese artist Omar Victor Diop's photograph re-enacting the 18th-century portrait of abolitionist Jean-Baptiste Belley by French artist Anne-Louis Girodet; Kehinde Wiley's On Top of the World (2008), a large-scale portrait by the renowned African-American artist that conflates Nigerian independence and the Black Power movement in the U.S.; and a Nkisi power figure by a Vili artist from the late 19th century.

Beyond Borders: Global Africa will be on view at the U-M Museum of Art from Aug. 11 to Nov. 25, 2018, and is curated by Laura De Becker, UMMA's Helmut and Candis Stern Associate Curator of African Art.

"The works in the exhibition demonstrate how conceptual and geographic borders continue to inform—and limit—the way we collect, research and display the arts of Africa," De Becker said.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated book published by UMMA, with an essay by De Becker, and a range of related public programs.

Lead support for Beyond Borders: Global Africa is provided by the U-M Office of the Provost, Michigan Medicine, National Endowment for the Arts, U-M Office of Research, African Studies Center and Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. Additional support is provided by the University of Michigan CEW+ Frances and Sydney Lewis Visiting Leaders Fund and Susan Ullrich.

Exhibition Related Programs

In Conversation: Borders in the Age of Globalization - Sunday, August 12, 3–4 p.m.

Guided Tour - Beyond Borders: Global Africa - Sunday, August 26, 2–3 p.m.

JIT Exchange - Thursday, September 13, 7–8 p.m.

Guided Tour - Beyond Borders: Global Africa - Sunday, September 16, 2–3 p.m.

Tunde Olaniran - Saturday, September 19, 8–9 p.m.

In Conversation: The Limitations of Labels: Beyond Borders and Categories - Sunday, September 30, 3–4 p.m.

Guided Tour - Beyond Borders: Global Africa - Sunday, October 14, 2–3 p.m. 

Family Art Studio: Global Africa - Saturday, October 20, 11 a.m.–1 p.m.

Family Art Studio: Global Africa - Saturday, October 20, 2–4 p.m.

African Art in Museums: Ethical Quandaries - Friday, October 26, 6–8 p.m.

In Conversation: 'African' Art in the Age of Globalization: Cosmopolitanism and Cultural Hybridity - Sunday, November 4, 3–4 p.m.

Family Art Studio: Global Africa - Saturday, November 10, 11 a.m.–1 p.m.