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NC Museum of Art Opens Expanded African Art Gallery

African Art Gallery

Raleigh, NC — On Friday, June 30, the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) opens its new, expanded African art gallery. The 6,500-square-foot gallery, reinstalled on the entry level of the Museum’s East Building, is three times as large as the old gallery and features African creativity spanning 16 centuries. Highlights of the gallery include improved light control, a site-specific wall drawing by Nigerian-American artist Victor Ekpuk, a special North Carolina lender wall, and nearly twice as many works of art on view—including some that have not been on display in a decade. The Museum also opens an interactive learning space that invites visitors to learn more about the collection and create their own art. To launch the new gallery, the Museum will host several public programs this summer and an all-day community celebration and free concert on September 23.

African Art Gallery
Lenders from across N.C. are generously loaning works of African art from their collections. Bennett College, for example, is loaning 10 works (originally donated by Warren M. Robbins, founder of the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian), including this beaded textile from Cameroon.

“We are excited to welcome the community to explore and celebrate the rich, diverse cultures of Africa in our new African art gallery,” says Director Lawrence J. Wheeler. “This expanded gallery and new interactive learning space elevates our African collection to a central showcase in the Museum, giving it the attention it so deserves and offering visitors countless opportunities to engage with and experience this powerful art.”

All works of art on loan to the Museum receive a condition assessment by NCMA staff and contracted conservators to ensure that all works are properly prepared for exhibition. Objects Conservator Corey Smith Riley conducts a site visit to review loans from Rhonda Wilkerson’s collection.


Highlights of the New African Art Gallery 

The expanded African art gallery in the NCMA’s East Building features:

African art spanning 16 centuries: The scale and scope of this permanent collection installation provides visitors the opportunity to see African creativity that spans 16 centuries. The gallery emphasizes the ongoing dynamism of the continent in both ancient times and today: the oldest work on view is a circa 600 terracotta sculpture, and the newest is a site-specific drawing by Nigerian-born artist Victor Ekpuk. The new gallery highlights additional modern and contemporary works by African artists, including El Anatsui’s large-scale Lines That Link Humanity.

African art spanning the continent: In the new gallery, geographic focal spaces highlight distinct stylistic trends and conceptual themes from across the continent. To complement previous strengths in West and Central Africa, the gallery includes a new focal area for Southern and Eastern African art.

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b>More gallery space: The new gallery is three times as large as the old gallery. The larger space allows more works to be on view and also dedicates more space to each individual work. With the additional space, even small works can be viewed closely and appreciated as great works of art.

More works of art on view: The average number of works on view grows from 65 at a time in the old gallery to 125 in the new, including works that have not been on view in over a decade and new acquisitions and donations that have never before been displayed. In the new gallery’s curated rotation schedule, 107 works that are newly acquired, loaned, or have not been on view for over 10 years will be on display. Additionally, the presentation of African women’s creative practices has been bolstered by new inclusions of ceramic arts.

Improved lighting controls: The new gallery in East Building has lighting controls that allow the Museum to safely display a variety of materials. Light-sensitive art—such as textiles, costumes, and photography—will be shown in curated rotations, offering more visibility to these types of works.

North Carolina collections: The new gallery includes a wall dedicated to North Carolina collections, both public and private. The first rotation of this exciting new space focuses on 10 works of art, such as the beaded skirt pictured above, from the Bennett College art collection recently donated from the estate of Warren M. Robbins. Robbins was founder of the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian.

Says Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, interim president of Bennett College: “Bennett College is pleased to be a part of this exciting African art exhibition. The sharing of these items from our African art collection undoubtedly enhances the public’s awareness of the uniqueness of this form of art as well as fostering an appreciation for the preservation and exhibition of various art cultures. We welcome the opportunity to continue the collaboration with the North Carolina Museum of Art in future exhibitions.”

African Art Gallery
Nigerian-American artist Victor Ekpuk works on his 30-by-18-foot chalk drawing in the new African art gallery. The large-scale wall drawing will be on view for one year, starting when the gallery opens to the public on June 30.

Site-specific work by Nigerian-American artist Victor Ekpuk: The first rotation of the new African art gallery features Divinity, a 30-by-18-foot site-specific chalk wall drawing by Nigerian-American and D.C.-based artist Victor Ekpuk (pictured above right). His recent exhibitions at the Havana Biennale and in London have earned him international acclaim. This installation highlights the grandeur of the new East Building location and emphasizes the NCMA’s commitment to accentuating Africa’s role as a nexus of contemporary art.

Interactive Learning Space: Threads of Experience 

Based on responses collected from online surveys, visitor intercepts, and community panels, the Museum’s Education Department developed a new interactive learning space—called Threads of Experience—that engages the visitor through experiences that cultivate creativity, imagination, and experimentation. The learning space, adjacent to the African art gallery and focused on Central and West African textiles, features several hands-on activities, including:

An interactive mirror in which the visitor’s image is made up of images of patterned works of art including textiles, beads, carved wood, and crinkled metal from objects in our African collection.

A floor-to-ceiling loom installation created by Raleigh design firm Tactile Workshop, where visitors can weave high-quality yarns from North Carolina sheep and goat farms with various recycled materials.

Embroidery-making activities inspired directly by Kuba Kingdom textiles.

Massive magnetic boards where visitors can create patterns based on works of art on view in the gallery.

A comfortable reading area created in partnership with Wake County Public Libraries.

A family guide for children and adults to have fun looking closely and making connections while exploring the gallery.

Signage designed to help visitors look more closely and understand what they are seeing.

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