African art show opens at Harvard’s Cooper Gallery
By Beth Treffeisen | May 20, 2016, 14:27 EDT
CAMBRIDGE – Walking into the gallery located off Brattle Square in Cambridge, a visitor immediately confronts a doll-like female figurine, but one that sports wings and is missing a head.
Yinka Shonibare’s Food Faerie, adorned in brightly colored fabric and holding a pack of peaches on her back, seems poised for flight.
“With the goose feather wings she looks like she is about to take off,” said Vera Ingrid Grant, director of Harvard University’s Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art. “She is going to go save someone.”
For its inaugural summer exhibition, the Cooper Gallery is presenting The Woven Arc, a show curated by Grant with a special installation of hats and legacy textile works selected by David Adjaye, an architect, from the collections of the Cooper Hewitt and Smithsonian Design Museum.
Included in the show are sculptures, paintings, conceptual art pieces, prints and textiles. The exhibit opens Friday and runs through July 16.
“It’s a small intimate space,” Grant said about the gallery, which Adjaye designed. “It’s meant to pull you into the journey, the experience.”
The exhibit examines the relationships between the different media as revealed in aesthetics of surface, text and texture.
Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, a 2015 recipient of the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement, is represented with a work that hangs from the wall: His large tapestry is made from aluminum and copper wire.
“He takes that small object and makes these majestic, tall tapestries,” Grant said, leaning in to take a closer look. “Paying attention to the surface – it’s like ripples in the ocean.”
Kenyan mixed-media artist Grace Ndiritu is well-represented with five pieces on display. In five-minute videos, she plays with colorful textiles and teases expectations while working with Eurocentric depictions of women.
“She’s so fierce, I love her,” Grant said.
Works are also on display from creators such as American conceptual artist Glenn Ligon, Namibian woodcutter John Muafangejo and British-Liberian conceptual artist Lina Victor.
On display from the gallery’s permanent collection are Soundsuit from visual and performance artist Nick Cave, Six by Six – a painting by mixed-media artist Peter Sacks, and the Food Faerie. Some of the works were loaned by the Jack Shainman Gallery and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, both in New York.
“Together these works weave a narrative about social legacies that African and African-American artists express and critique with evolving strategies,” Grant said. “Some of the pieces work as critical social metaphors; they all inspire discourse and spin fresh tales.”
The Cooper Gallery at 102 Mount Auburn St. is free and open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information about The Woven Arc show, including events, check the gallery’s website.