Despite the uprooting of African people from their communities and their dispersal as slaves, memory of African cultural practices survives wherever there are people of African descent. This exhibition of photographs from the Museum’s collection presents the work of four contemporary artists — Albert Chong, Reginald L. Jackson, Renee Stout, and Carrie Mae Weems — who celebrate their African heritage in their art.
Each of these artists creates work that affirms the continuity of African culture in the Americas, especially African spiritual traditions. Jackson’s The Candomble Series documents the persistence of Nigerian Yoruba beliefs in the Candomble religion of Brazil. Chong’s Thrones for the Ancestors series is intended to “bring home the ancestral spirits” using multiple references both to African (especially Yoruba) and Chinese culture. Stout’s contemporary drama of unrequited love, played out in Red Room at Five, alludes to a Haitian Vodou spirit based on a Yoruba deity. Weems’s photographs from the Africa Series record the stunning architecture of Mali and are accompanied by a thought-provoking text that weaves together myths from many cultures.
The connection to African culture is one path to understanding this art. Like much contemporary art, the work is linked to diverse cultural influences and to personal biography. All the artists in this exhibition would likely concur with Stout’s goal of “trying to create art that helps me put together what are only fragments, to try to create a whole, so that I can gain a better understanding of my own existence. In doing this, I hope that others, no matter where they come from, will realize some answers about their own existence.”