Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue brings together artworks from two world-class collections: the National Museum of African Art and the Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. collection. The exhibition, on view at the museum from Nov. 9, 2014 through Jan. 24, 2016, is a major part of the museum’s 50th anniversary, celebrating its unique history and contributions toward furthering meaningful dialogue between Africa and the African diaspora.
Conversations presents selected artworks from the Cosby collection, including works by Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Beauford Delaney, Loïs Mailou Jones, Jacob Lawrence, Keith Morrison, Faith Ringgold, Augusta Savage, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and Alma Thomas. With the exception of one work of art, the Cosby collection has never been loaned or seen publicly and only rarely and selectively published. The works of African American art are placed in thematic dialogue with African traditional works of art, including a Kongo female figure with child from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a lidded bowl from Nigeria by the Yoruba master artist Olowe of Ise, and a Nuna butterfly mask from Burkina Faso, and with modern and contemporary works of art by artists, including Fodé Camara from Senegal, Godfried Donkor from Ghana, and William Kentridge from South Africa.
The exhibition and its accompanying publication are organized to explore intersecting ideas about history, creativity, power, identity, and artistry in ways that resonate with people the world over.
- Rare late 18th- and early 19th-century portraits by the Baltimore-based African American artist Joshua Johnston
- Explorations of black spirituality in the 1894 masterwork The Thankful Poor by Henry Ossawa Tanner and in the 1943 painting Boy and the Candle by South African artist Gerard Sekoto
- The struggle for freedom and equality explored through the 1989 sculpture Toussaint Louverture et la vieille esclave by the Senegalese artist Ousmane Sow and the 1982 painting Still Life: Souvenir No. IV by the African American artist Eldzier Cortor
- History, knowledge, and memories explored through Cosby family quilts and African textiles
- A section on music and urban culture that includes African musical instruments and African and African American modern and contemporary works
About the Curators
The exhibition was developed and jointly curated by David C. Driskell, artist and noted scholar of the arts of Africa and the African diaspora; Adrienne L. Childs, independent scholar; Christine Mullen Kreamer, the museum’s deputy director and chief curator; and Bryna Freyer, curator at the museum. It was designed by MFM Design of Bethesda, Maryland.
A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue, developed by the museum, is available in the museum store. It includes a foreword by Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, a preface by and an interview with Driskell, an interview essay with the Cosbys, and a series of thematic essays jointly authored by Childs and Kreamer.
Public programs accompany the exhibition to engage the museum’s diverse audiences from K-12 to adult. In addition, the exhibition launches the museum’s pilot “Museum Ambassadors” program, which trains teen docents on the ideas and themes that inform the exhibition.