Friday, January 19, 2007

Exhibition Review: The Art of African Women: Empowering Traditions

I went to the opening of the exhibition "The Art of African Women: Empowering Traditions" at the African American Museum in Philadelphia last night. The exhibition's most powerful elements are the photographs of Margaret Courtney-Clarke, a photojournalist born and raised in Naimibia who lived amongst the Ndebele people in South Africa for over a year.

The strong geometric lines of the Ndebele wall painting, combined with the bright colors is staggeringly breathtaking and the jewels of the show. The real-life jewels - the heavy bead work produced by the Ndebele people - are on display in three dimensions as well - some from Ms. Clarke's collection and some from the wonderful collection of the Schomberg center. Peppered throughout the exhibition are textiles from the Berber region of North Africa, Ghanaian Kente cloths, and some images from Cambodia.

One of the highlights of the night was my getting to meet Howard Dodson, Director of the Schomberg center and getting the chance to tell him of my obsession with the sculptor Richmond Barthe. Mr. Dodson indulged me by telling the story of Barthe, who contacted the Schomberg center on his way to spend time in the Caribbean. He didn't know what to do with all of his work while away, so he dropped it off at the Schomberg Center with no pretense, no deed of gift... nothing. He also told one of my favorite Barthe fun facts: that the actor James Garner supported him in the last years of his life. I have always wanted to interview Garner about this relationship, so if any of you know him... give me a shout.

Back to the exhibition. In short, it's amazing. Lovely, complete, and powerful. Unfortunately those that visit throughout the rest of the run will not have the live African band and the words of Mr. Dodson to aid in their experience... regardless: GO. And invite me along, I'd love to see it again.

Congratulations to Ramona Benson, the new CEO of the museum. What a coup!

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