Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Today is the last before artists begin arriving for the exhibition, Artists in Dialogue: António Ole and Aimé Mpane at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

This exhibition came about as the result of the museum’s desire to bring lesser known African artists to the United States. It has also been my first exhibition since I joined the staff of the museum (called NMAfA in house). I proposed the concept of having the artists respond to one another, to invite them to a visual dialogue. And within my first week I reached out to António Ole of Angola and Aimé Mpane of Congo (Kinshasa) and Belgium to find out if they would be interested in joining me to launch this new series. They both agreed.

First, I would like to thank both of these extraordinary artists for agreeing to participate in an unusual and challenging endeavor. Artists in Dialogue is conceived as a series of conversations: the exchange of past accomplishments and new ideas between two artists, the ongoing correspondence between artists and curator, and an effort by both artists and museum reaching out to its communities – be they DC natives, national and international visitors, or interested parties bouncing about cyber space.

This blog is intended to tell the story of this exhibition and it serves as an open invitation to readers and anyone you think might be interested to engage me, the artists, the museum, one another… in dialogue – the hopefully open, but often complicated exchange of words, ideas, and images.

As Mikhail Bakhtin wrote, “There is neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to the dialogic context (it extends into the boundless past and the boundless future).” A blog is the perfect way to put this notion to the test.

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About the Exhibition

Artists in Dialogue: António Ole and Aimé Mpane is the first in a series of exhibitions in which two artists have been invited to create new work in response to one another. Accompanying these site specific artworks are a selection of older and more recent pieces by António Ole of Angola and Aimé Mpane, an artist who divides his time between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Belgium. Even though their works appear together for the first time, Ole and Mpane share close ties to their homelands and a connection to the human and natural environments of their native countries.

Ole has been creating and exhibiting his artwork since he was a teenager, and this selection spans his impressive 40-year career. From the crisp pop art style of his youth to his subtle and evocative assemblages and installations, Ole's work prompts viewers to consider poverty, political hypocrisy, territorialism, violence and decay. At the same time, a deep appreciation for the beauty of cast-off objects and the aesthetics of poverty underlies his works, which are on view in the United States for the first time.

Mpane, a prolific artist who is versatile in painting, prints, sculpture, video and installation, achieved international recognition in 2006. He utilizes his commanding skill with human expressions and the figure to probe the history and present state of the DRC.

This selection of established and new works provides insight into the personal visions of Ole and Mpane and how they communicate with diverse audiences. Their subject matter, use of unlikely materials and ongoing commitment to Africa resonate with one another and encourage dialogue.

About the Curator.

My photo
"I was told to describe myself as a well-dressed hipster and I only wish this were true. Despite my lack of cool, I consider myself lucky to be the coordinating curator at the National Museum of African Art. My interests include both contemporary and classical African art - and to be frank, I disagree with the notion of a great separation between the two - and I have worked in both museums and universities. I've been called an idealist because I believe that through learning about other cultures, ideas, and visions, we learn tolerance for one another - regardless of class, religion, country and the other great divides. But I also just love looking at, learning about, and being with African art and African artists. I like art in general, but it is the diversity, complexity, and richness of the works connected to the African continent that captivate and motivate me. It's the only work I've ever done, and among other great rewards, it has allowed me to travel to and on a couple of occasions live in Zambia, Nigeria, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Angola and Senegal."