Splashing Around – Creative Africa and Nari Ward on Artblog Radio

Flora and Roberta share their opinions and insights about two major summer shows–Creative Africa at the PMA and Sun Splashed at the Barnes. Lots of art, lots of ideas, and plenty to talk about. Listen in! – Artblog Editor

This summer, Philadelphia is hosting two big shows celebrating the arts of Africa and the African diaspora. At the Barnes, Nari Ward’s mid-career retrospective, Sun Splashed, stretches from the island of Jamaica to the streets of Harlem. At the PMA, the five interlocking exhibitions of Creative Africa explore historical and contemporary art across the African continent.

2016-05-13 09
Textiles by the Dutch company Vlisco, on view as part of the show entitled “Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage.” Photograph by Roberta Fallon.
2016-05-13 09.40.39
Francis Keré, “Colorscape.” Installation at the Perelman Building of the PMA.

Drawing from the riches of the African collection at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, “Look Again: Contemporary Perspectives on African Art” starts from the premise that engagement with these works does not depend on deep engagement with their cultural and historical context. Curator Kristina Van Dyke encourages us to look closely at the visual and material form of individual artworks in order to appreciate them. At the Barnes Foundation, Nari Ward’s direct engagement with issues of race, culture, and class in contemporary America makes for an interesting counterpoint to the African art collected by Dr. Barnes (and by the Penn Museum) in the early 20th century. Finally, the three shows of contemporary photography, textiles, and architecture that fill the first floor of the PMA’s Perelman Building leave us with lots of questions about the “Africa” in “Creative Africa.” Just how fixed is regional or even national identity for both artists and artworks that circulate widely thanks to the global art market? What makes African art African?

2016-06-21 13.55.03-1
Nari Ward, “Iron Heavens,” 1995.
2016-06-21 13
Nari Ward, “We the People,” 2011. Made during a residency at Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop. Photograph by Roberta Fallon.
2016-06-21 14
Nari Ward together with his sculpture, “Beat Box,” 2000. Photograph by Roberta Fallon.

It’s a lot to take in, and Roberta and Flora sat down to talk through their experiences at these shows, their impressions of the works on view, and the big-picture issues of colonialism and the display of African art in American institutions. This conversation was recorded live at the Galleries at Moore’s radio booth on July 14.