The Detroit Institute of Arts is presenting a fascinating and adventurous exhibition that explores the consequences on African art of cultural exchanges between Africa and Europe over the past five hundred years. Casting the European as the cultural “other,” a reversal of the usual Eurocentric perspective, the exhibition examines how African artists from diverse cultures used, and continue to use, visual forms to reflect their particular societies’ changing attitudes toward Europeans, as the latter evolved from stranger to colonizer, to the more inclusive Westerner.
On view are a hundred three-dimensional artworks and utilitarian objects executed in wood, ivory, metals, and fabric, drawn from the holdings of the Detroit Institute of Arts and other leading American and international museums and private collections. The show rests on the premise that African perceptions of Europeans over time were neither monolithic nor static, and it demonstrates that cultural exchanges not only produced new African art forms but also stimulated new social values and modes of governance. The accompanying catalogue, edited by Nii Quarcoopome, curator of African Art at the Detroit Institute, who also organized the show, will include essays by recognized experts and numerous illustrations that will expand on the ideas conveyed by the exhibition.
Through African Eyes: The European in African Art, 1500 to Present · Detroit Institute of Arts · April 18 to August 8 · www.dia.org
Photo: Drum depicting a European, Vili culture, Democratic Republic of Congo, nineteenth century. Wood, hide, and pigment; height 39 inches. Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.