Mellon Diversifying the Field

Exploring Modern African Art

A Chrysler Museum of Art and
Hampton University Museum Partnership

Elizabeth Robson (Former Mellon Conservation Fellow) and Tashae Smith (Mellon Curatorial Fellow) giving a presentation to Hampton University Museum staff members. Photo by Alexander Kravets, June 2022 Courtesy of the Hampton University Museum, Funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Elizabeth Robson (Former Mellon Conservation Fellow), Tashae Smith (Mellon Curatorial Fellow), Kenlontae Turner (Hampton University Museum Curator of Collections) examining the sculpture “Stele” created by Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian. Photo by Alexander Kravets, June 2022 Courtesy of the Hampton University Museum, Funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

In 2021, the Chrysler Museum and Hampton University Museum received a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to start a three-year pilot program to enhance diversity in the Museum field by hiring a curatorial fellow and conservation fellow to survey Hampton University Museum’s (HUM) Harmon Foundation Modern African art collection and the Chrysler’s African art collection. As the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow for this project, I am thrilled to share an update on our transformative work.

I, along with the former conservation fellow, Elizabeth Robson, started this project by first completing an inventory of Hampton’s Modern African art collection, which was donated by the Harmon Foundation in 1967. This inventory allowed us to get familiar with the collection’s artworks and artists. From this inventory we discovered that the artworks in the collection come from several African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Sudan, Ethiopia, and South Africa. Although we originally thought this collection consisted of paintings, we learned that it contains more works on paper, 358 to be exact. Read, Harmon Foundation Modern African Art Collection Statistics to learn more about the statistics of this collection.

After treatment image of “Crocodile and Snake Fighting” created by Pilipili Mulongoy. Treatment completed by Elizabeth Robson. Photo taken by Elizabeth Robson, Feb 2023.

With the support of Vanessa Thaxton-Ward, PhD, HUM director; Carolyn Swan Needell, PhD, Carolyn and Richard Barry Curator of Glass; Mark Lewis, Chrysler conservator; Crystal Johnson, Associate Curator & Director of Membership and Community Programs, and Kenlontae Turner, HUM curator of collections, we are wrapping up year two of this project. We have started the conservation treatments of select works from Hampton’s Modern African art collection in preparation for the opening of two exhibitions which will feature artworks from Hampton’s collection and the Chrysler’s African Art collection.

The first exhibition, Sankofa: Constructing Modern African Art, will open on April 12, 2024 at Hampton University Museum. This exhibition will examine how African artists were utilizing notions of the past (pre-colonial, cultural heritage, traditional values) to construct their versions of Modern African art. The second exhibition, I am Copying Nobody: The Art and Political Cartoons of Akinola Lasekan, will open on April 13, 2024 at the Chrysler Museum. The exhibition will showcase the early artworks and political cartoons of Akinola Lasekan, a pioneer of Modern Nigerian art and political cartoons. Visitors will be introduced to a trailblazing artist who can rightfully claim that he copied nobody. These exhibitions will be featured in a joint museum catalog.

Tashae Smith measuring “Painting of Woman in Orange” created by Ben Enwonwu. Photo by Alexander Kravets, June 2022 Courtesy of the Hampton University Museum, Funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

As we prepare for the third year of this project, we will continue to further the core of this project, which is diversifying the museum field. We will do this by continuing to provide scholarly information on Hampton’s Modern African art collection and the Chrysler’s African art collection through online resources, educational programs, and the International Review of African American Art. Select artworks in Hampton’s Modern African art collection will continue to be conserved so they can be shared with other institutions. And lastly, we will continue to diversify the museum field through our 2023 and 2024 summer curatorial internship opportunity which supports a student from Hampton University. Currently, Bria Miller, a senior at Hampton University, is getting hands-on curatorial experience by working with me to prepare for the 2024 exhibitions.

This website is updated each month with blog posts that bring awareness to the project and these special collections. Continue to check in each month to learn more about the progression of this project and the artworks in Hampton’s Harmon Foundation Modern African art collection, and the Chrysler’s African art collection.

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