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5 Takes On African Art

Red Faced MaskContinuing a tradition of hosting challenging, exploratory exhibitions organized by student curatorial teams, the UMCA presents 5 Takes on African Art / 42 Flags by Fred Wilson.

This year’s team of graduate students — from Art History (Yingxi Lucy Gong and Elizabeth Upenieks); Studio Arts (Vick Quezada); and Afro-American Studies/ Public History (Kiara Hill) — curate an exhibition of African art drawn from the collection of Charles Derby, a UMass alumnus and Northampton resident who has been collecting African art since the 1970s, in tandem with an exhibition of Flags of Africa by the renowned African American artist Fred Wilson. 

Professor Imo Imeh, who teaches African and African American art at Westfield State University in Westfield, MA, serves as advisor, mentor, and co-curator of the exhibition.

The exhibition invites visitors to see objects on display not only as visually compelling works of art in their own right, but also as objects of encounter that can “tell” stories about the broader social contexts and often fraught global histories through which they have journeyed. They bring the “telling” of African stories into the museum experience and draw out resonances among the objects on view.

The exhibition is divided into five sections, or 5 Takes by the five curators, each highlighting a different aspect of Derby’s collection and serving as points of departure for understanding the concepts in question: Memory; Eyes of the Collector; Black Womanhood; Authentic vs. Inauthentic; and Journeys Taken. Encircling 5 Takes are Fred Wilson’s Flags of Africa. The artist strips color from flags of African countries, leaving only the graphic stripes, stars, crescents, and shields, applied in black acrylic paint directly on raw canvas. Mimicking museum wall labels, 42 wooden plaques describe the flags of these nations and what their symbols and colors represent.