Skip to main content

Contemporary African Art in Two NYU Galleries

I recommend seeing two exhibitions at NYU galleries, both located on Washington Square East, before they close in early December:

The Poetics of Cloth
African Textiles/Recent Art
Grey Art Gallery
Through December 6, 2008

The Poetics of Cloth: African Textile/Recent Art is a significant exhibition that explores the continuities of the textile tradition in contemporary African art. While the focus is on the medium of cloth, the exhibition nevertheless explores the topic through photography, painting, sculpture, and video as well, showing the continuities of the textile tradition within a larger art conversation. The contemporary African artists represented here show a deep respect for tradition even while departing from it and exploring the dynamics of change on the continent.

Atta Kwami, a Ghana native who grew up the son of a sculptor, painter, and textile designer, creates abstract paintings that could belong to western modern painting but also clearly come out of West African visual culture. Yinka Shonibare, a Nigerian artist born in London and an international art rock star, has a knockout large C-print of an image of a storm-tossed ship sailed with Dutch wax prints that's titled La Méduse, referencing the shipwreck depicted in Géricault's painting. The Dutch wax prints, Dutch and British-produced interpretations of Indonesian batiks, found a large market in West Africa and became associated with African culture. The cultural complexities of colonization implied within this work are immense. In addition to Shonibare's image, many of the works in the exhibit are photographic images of people wearing their choice of clothing. Several of the most stunning artworks in the exhibit are the beautiful, tactile works of cotton or silk themselves, Adinkra cloths and Kente cloths or other types, but even El Anatsui, an artist from Ghana now living in Nigeria, creates contemporary patterned objects out of slats of burned or treated wood. The star work of the exhibition, however, is Rikki Wemega-Kwawu's Kente for the Space Age, 2007, a visually powerful artwork woven of colorful used phone cards and plastic twine.

S&M: Shrines and Masquerades in Cosmopolitan Times
NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
80 Washington Square East Galleries
Through December 6, 2008

This exhibition in NYU's 80 Washington Square East Galleries features contemporary work that reinterprets the legacy of African Shrines and Masquerades. The work is sometimes serious, but as is the nature of masquerading, some of it is also mischievous and very funny. In this serious-funny vein, be sure to take in the video by Lyle Ashton Harris, one of the show's curators and a member of the Steinhardt faculty, of himself "Performing MJ." Keeping in the vein of rock stars, I'd also like to recommend Chris Bogia's two separate shrines to Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith. Bogia creates the icons in each shrine by weaving panels that recreate their Blue and Horses albums, respectively. Senga Nengudi's wall sculptures of found objects, nylon hose, wire, and sand are elegantly-made and skillfully composed. The same can be said of Onyedika Chuke's Fur Composition #6 of goat pelt and fabric as well as the exquisite pencil drawing of the pelt that's near it on the wall. Most all of this work adds to the overall theme, and the curators chose well. The exhibition testifies to the rich possibilities of creating meaningful artworks within the known tropes and the practices of the distant past. This exhibition is refreshing in its balance between playfulness and thought-provoking cultural exchange. Anyone who has ever created a shrine to someone or experienced the interior changes when dressed up as someone else will certainly get this exhibit. But they may come away from seeing this work, like I did, with a more profound understanding of the deep need to pay respect to cherished beings and to imagine life in someone else's skin.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple









Popular posts from this blog

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

Facing the Dark Ages

A close look at The Met Cloisters Update: The Met Cloisters reopened on September 12, 2020. See the museum's website for ticket information. The Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 82-year-old home for its medieval collection in Fort Tryon Park (known as The Met Cloisters in recent years, the result of rebranding), dominates Northern Manhattan like a mystical fortress, like some object of a mythical quest. From nearly any direction, it’s easy to see the tower with its sandy-colored walls, double-arched windows, and Mediterranean style tile roof. Walking south on Broadway north of Dyckman Street , the way of everyday serfs and pilgrims going to market, the otherworldly sight of the imposing structure can transform an otherwise pedestrian journey.  View of The Met Cloisters from the northeast Culture and architect critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), reviewing the museum’s opening in 1938 for his regular column in The New Yorker, didn’t care much for the tower, but that was his

Walking on Snow

❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ For the better part of this new year, snow has been either on the ground or in the forecast. In the city landscape, the streets look enchanting for a day or so and then devolve into a dirty mess. This sort of snow is unappealing for an invigorating walk. A snowy path in Inwood Hill Park The forest, on the other hand, has managed to stay enchanting throughout each bout of winter weather. The presence of owls and hawks, bright red cardinals and sweet chickadees, and brown squirrels and black squirrels transform the woodlands into a fairy tale. An Eastern Screech-Owl at home in the winter forest I've spent much of the whole pandemic year, going back to March 2020, in the woods of Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. While I have been accustomed to walking through the park in spring, summer, and autumn, I've never managed to engage with the deepest parts of the forest when a lot of snow was on the ground. Last winter there wasn't much snow anyway. Eastern Screech-Owl

An Early Autumn Walk in Central Park: 2020 Edition

This week, the singer Diana Krall released a cover of “Autumn in New York,” the standard by Vernon Duke. An accompanying video , filmed in New York by Davis McCutcheon and directed by Mark Seliger, portrays the city in moody yet beautiful black and white tones. Beyond the lack of autumn colors, the film shows the empty streets of the pandemic city. The mood riffs on the underlying melancholy of the song’s lyrics, that the fall season “is often mingled with pain.” Approaching The Mall in Central Park  When I think of autumn in New York, I automatically imagine walking in Central Park in the vivid colors of the season. The images here, from a meandering one-mile stroll this past Saturday, show only a hint of autumnal glory but reflect more conventional representations of both the season and the song. Yet, walking in Central Park at the beginning of autumn is tinged for me with a hint of sadness, or truthfully, with some anxiety about the coming months. The Mall in Central Park I hadn’t v

A Morning Walk from Penn Station to Times Square

Penn Station to Times Square New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after.  At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, an outsize reminder of the public health crisis from Montefiore Medical Center After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle.  34th Street looking east toward the Empire State Building I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months.  8th Avenue at W. 38th Street After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds.  A few commuters near Port Authority and The New York Times building, 8th Avenue and W. 40th Street Yet, I had

Purposeful Pastimes in a Pandemic

The disruption of everyday life in this pandemic can lead to confusion, immobility, or a lack of concentration. I know this has been true for me. Certain activities that in normal times would be effortless and fun now seem suddenly too hard or irrelevant. For me, this includes writing anything longer than a paragraph. I also painted a small scene of the streetscape out my window but it took me over a month to finish it. I’ve now identified a handful of activities that are easy for me, and I’ve managed to rationalize them by finding meaning in them as well. The first, of course, is walking. While staying home is the preferred course of action during a pandemic, a solitary walk in a nearby park is acceptable within the current guidelines. I find these walks in nature absolutely necessary for physical and mental wellbeing. Taking pictures of birds can also be fun, educational, and meaningful. While the Great Egret, Red-tailed Hawk, and Northern Cardinal are common in these

Walking It Off: Coping with Holiday Stress During the Pandemic

When I began this series, “Pandemic Posts from the Pause: New York City in the Age of Coronavirus” in March of 2020, I could see the first young greens of spring from my window. New Yorkers were told to stay home then and away from others. As someone who enjoys walking in the city, I knew that I would need to sacrifice many things this year. I was not going to give up walking. I quickly figured out that I could safely go to Inwood Hill Park near my house and wander the trails in the old forest. In March, I could breathe in the spring air away from others. There was little else to do during those early days of the “pause.” New Yorkers suffered greatly at the beginning. In a few months we were able to get the numbers down and to manage some semblance of human interaction, at a distance and masked.  Now, with the beginning of the holidays, the city and nation faces the existential threat of the virus’s return, the political assault on democratic norms, and the ongoing threat of the clima

A New York Spring Calendar: Blooming Times and Seasonal Events

See the UPDATED 2018 CALENDAR HERE . Updated for 2017 . At this time of year, thoughts turn to spring. Let's spring forward to blooming times, the best locations for witnessing spring's beginnings, and springtime events in the big city. While the occasional snow could blow through the city, we're just weeks now from callery pears in bloom and opening day at the ballpark. In The Ramble, Central Park. mid-April Blooming Times •  Central Park Conservancy's website  lists blooming times within the park. During the month of March we begin to see crocus, daffodils, forsythia, snowdrops, witch-hazel, and hellebores. Species tulips will emerge in several places, but the Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory Garden are particularly good places to catch the beginning of Spring blooms. Central Park near E. 72nd St., saucer magnolia, typically end of March. •  Citywide Blooming Calendar from New York City Department of Parks & Recreation April is u

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit