Organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Fisk University Galleries, African Modernism in America is the first major traveling exhibition to examine the complex connections between African artists and American patrons, artists, and cultural organizations amid the interlocking histories of civil rights, decolonization, and the Cold War. During these years, such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA), and Historically Black Colleges and Universities collected and exhibited works by many of the most important African artists of the mid-twentieth century, including Ben Enwonwu (Nigeria), Gerard Sekoto (South Africa), Ibrahim El-Salahi (Sudan), and Skunder Boghossian (Ethiopia). The inventive and irrefutably contemporary nature of these artists’ paintings, sculptures, and works on paper defy typical Western narratives about African art being isolated to a “primitive past”; their presentation in the US rooted these vital works firmly in the present for American audiences.
This exhibition draws primarily from Fisk University’s remarkable collection of gifts from the Harmon Foundation, a leading American organization devoted to the support and promotion of African and African American artists and to forging links between transatlantic artists and audiences. It features more than seventy artworks by fifty artists that exemplify the relationships between the new art that emerged in Africa during the 1950s and 1960s and the art and cultural politics of the US.