Modern African art comes to Holland, MI

The exhibition titled “Deep Roots, New Shoots” will be featured at Hope College’s  Kruizenga Art Museum (KAM) from Jan. 12 to May 18. This exhibit displays modern art across the African continent. It was curated by Charles Mason, the Director and Curator of the Kruizenga Art Museum with help from student intern Liliana Fraser-Shade (’24), the Pan-African Student Association (PASA) and the contribution of donors. This exhibition, while unable to capture the entirety of what modern African art has to offer, gives us a glimpse into the creativity and innovation coming out of the continent in recent decades. 

Upon entering the KAM and turning right, the spectators’ eyes are met with a conflicting decision: where to look first. Explosions of color, dynamic sculptures and textured canvases fill the space, immersing your senses at every turn. 

The Anchor talked to Mason about his experience putting together this arrangement of stunning artwork. He has had a hand in directing the KAM throughout its inception and opening in September of 2015.  He previously specialized in Asian artwork, but at the KAM he is a generalist and works on collecting art from all pockets of the world. Mason explained that he originally planned to show a selection of pieces gifted from donors for this exhibit, both traditional and modern, but his final choice was made after hearing from PASA saying, “We’re really responding more to the modern and contemporary stuff.” By listening to the voices of this student organization, he was able to dive deeper into his already-established interest of bringing modern African art to the KAM. That decision proved to be fruitful, as this exhibition sends a direct message about the creativity coming out of all regions of Africa. 

Seeing these pieces, it is obvious that the phrase “African art” contains multitudes. With acrylic paintings from Zimbabwe and Senegal, etchings from South Africa and oils from Ghana, these artists are showing us the excellence that encapsulates the term. The variety of these pieces exist not in an effort to represent the continent at large but rather their unique points of view based on their individual culture, experience and identity. 

When reflecting on his curated pieces, Mason says that his favorite is “Cookoil pa Speed” by Zimbabwen artist Sky Salanje. He commented on this piece, saying, “I respond especially to works that kind of give me like a gut feeling […] I have a physical reaction to it as well as an intellectual reaction.” This painting depicts the textures, sounds and smells of a Zimbabwaen vendor selling bottles of cooking oil. The acrylic combined with collage works to portray the vibrancy of life in this mundane scene. Many of the pieces in this gallery have this element of physical reaction to them. Some pieces that especially evoke reaction are “The Face I Can’t Forget” by Theophilus Tetteh, “Marie Arame” by Awa Ndiaye and “Virtuous Women” by Ebenezer Akinola.  

Here in Holland, MI, we are surrounded by eurocentric influences and primarily Dutch symbols that can present the feeling that what surrounds us could be the right thing or only thing. One of the missions of the KAM is to give all people, students, faculty and community members alike exposure to world cultures that differ from the bubble that forms around this area of West Michigan. Dick Kruizenger, the founder of the museum, stated to Mason, that “What I want is a museum that can bring world cultures to Hope College.” Through exhibitions such as “Deep Roots, New Shoots”, KAM is doing exactly that.

Many of the museums around the world display modern art in the European and North American context and only feature traditional Asian and African art, according to Mason. This creates “[…] the implicit message that […] modernity is a function of Western culture and that maybe other cultures aren’t participating in the modern.” An important element of this exhibit is to prove that this notion is not factual. New ideas, unconventional materials and innovative arrangements are all on display in the “Deep Roots, New Shoots” exhibit, making it an exciting place to challenge the white-washed, eurocentric narrative and immerse yourself in the beauty and fascinating nature of diverse types of art being made all around the world.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the exhibit in person, take some time to dive into this exhibit for art that takes any preconceived notions of Africa and reveals that modernity is living, breathing and emerging from this astonishingly diverse continent.

(Featured image: “Cookoil pa speed” by Sky Salanje (Zimbabwe) Credit: Abigail Musherure)


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