Posted tagged ‘installation’

Unmasking African Art

April 9, 2008

Below is a slightly revised feature article I recently wrote for my Advanced Public Relations Writing course. I think it’s pretty indicative of my values. You can view images and detailed information on the galleries mentioned in this post here.

Unmasking African Art

Tribal wooden masks with no attributed artists are on display as soon as guests climb the stairs to the fourth floor of the newly remodeled Seattle Art Museum (SAM). But visitors don’t have much time for skepticism that this is a stereotypical African art exhibit because in the same room is a video playing of dancing and drumming involving the masks. Delve farther into the galleries to find a sculpted headless family standing around in British Victorian dress, except in colors and visual patterns associated with sub-Saharan Africa. Bright green and orange are among two of the colors splashed on each outfit of Yinka Shonibare’s “Nuclear Family,” 1999.

Some artists draw upon the travesties committed against and within the continent. Contemporary local artist Marita Dingus’ visit to the Elmina Castle in Ghana, the largest slave castle in the world, inspired the partner installations “400 Men of African Descent” and “200 Women of African Descent.” On an interactive computer about these works, she recounts how she’s a black American who changed her entire approach to art creation after studying art in Africa. “400 Men of African Descent” and “200 Women of African Descent” consist of rag dolls made entirely of discarded materials attached to the walls as a way to show that Africans have been a discarded people, used for slavery then thrown away by the rest of the world. She explains that the repetition involved in making the dolls was therapeutic for her, a form of prayer similar to reciting rosaries in the religion she grew up with, Catholicism.

The partner installations touched me. I lived in Ghana for six weeks in the summer of 2005 and also visited Elmina Castle. I think this exhibit is an example of how art can connect people of different cultures. As I took that art in with my open eyes and learned about it on the interactive computer, I was back at that castle with her, even though I had never met her and probably never will. We watched the blue waves crash against that worn building with such an evil past, full of black and white tourists feeling a mix of remorse and unity.

SAM’s African Art galleries present breakthroughs in subjects as specific as the definitions of African Art and as broad as cross-cultural communication. They showcase contemporary work from artists who have spent at least part of their lives outside of Africa. The galleries also include videos to educate visitors and blur the boundaries of what belongs in an art museum. The galleries and their interactive media explain the community and cultural context behind art instead of focusing exclusively on the artists’ inspirations.

The African Art galleries are part of SAM’s permanent collection. Downtown SAM is located at the corner of 1st Avenue and Union Street. Admission is $13 for adults, $10 for seniors 62 and older, $7 for students with identification and free for children 12 and younger. At the Seattle Art Museum, every first Thursday of the month is free and every first Friday is free for seniors.

For more information, visit or call (206) 625-8900.

* I created this writing sample for my Advanced Public Relations Writing class. The information is not meant to represent the organization described. It is for academic purposes only.