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Contemporary Controversies: Curatorial Activism in the Arts of Africa

Barbara Thompson, Stanford University

Monday, October 04, 2010
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall (10th Floor)
Los Angeles, CA 90095

In curatorial practices today, asking "What is art?" leads to no singularly "correct" answer. Expand the question to "What is African art?" and the territory becomes even murkier as the terms "art" and "Africa" resist definition. Navigation toward mutual understanding enters a quagmire of definitions, territorialism, and exclusionism further complicated by "What is contemporary African art?" How does one "curate the contemporary" in and through African art? Using her exhibitions “Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body” and the forthcoming “Crude Realities: Art/Oil/Protest” as case studies, Dr. Thompson argues that curatorial activism can confront some of these museological dilemmas while fostering dialogue about the controversies of contemporary life in Africa.

Barbara Thompson is the Phyllis Wattis Curator for the Arts of Africa and the Americas at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Previously, she was curator of the African, Oceanic, and Native American collections for the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. She also worked as a consultant for the Africa Bureau of United States Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C. Dr. Thompson has been honored with a LEF Foundation grant for a site-specific installation project with artist Fred Wilson, entitled “So Much Trouble in the World—Believe It or Not!,” and a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for her exhibition and accompanying catalogue, “Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body.” She earned her PhD in Art History from the University of Iowa and her M.A. from the University of Florida, Gainesville.


Exhibiting Africa: Critical Curatorial Practice in the 21st Century Series

The lecture series addresses dynamic alternative approaches to Africa’s representation in museum and exhibition contexts of the 21st century. Within African art studies, exhibitions have been one of the primary vehicles of representation, with some of the most important research in the field taking shape through museum exhibitions and associated scholarly publications. Yet the display of cultures has been fraught with the politics of representation. This forward-looking series of lectures will present and envision critical curatorial interventions that embrace multiple facets of traditional, modern, contemporary, urban, and diasporic African experience. We shall seek to complicate conventional wisdoms about what it means to organize exhibitions, and to engage artists and communities in the actions of curatorial practice.

Upcoming Lectures

Oct. 18 -- Raymond Silverman, University of Michigan
Reimagining Curatorial Practice in 21st-Century Africa: Community Museums

Nov. 1 -- Gemma Rodrigues, Fowler Museum at UCLA
Simultaneous Translation: In and out of Africa/ In and out of Time

Nov. 15 -- Sylvester Ogbechie, UC Santa Barbara
Curating Africa as a Site of Globalization 

These presentations are part of the UCLA African Studies Center Monday Africa Seminar Series (MASS), funded by a grant from the UCLA International Institute. Additional funding provided by the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

Pay-by-space and all-day ($10) parking available in lot 3.

Cost : Free and open to the public

African Studies Center310-825-3686

Sponsor(s): African Studies Center

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