“The aliens are coming, and they’ll be landing on that bastion of Western civilization, New York’s -Metropolitan Museum of Art…” Eva McSweeney, W Magazine.
Writing from Mombassa’s white sand seaside in Kenya, I have women and art on my mind. I read an article on sister of the soil, Kenya’s own Wangechi Mutu, born in Nairobi 1972 said to be “taking over the Met” according to W Magazine. The fearless artists known for her visual commentary on feminism, gender, race and colonialism uses myriad media including collage, sculpture, video and performance art. While not the focus, she also addresses violence and misrepresentation experienced by Black women in today’s society. Wangechi is a friend of Julie Mehretu, acclaimed Ethiopian American artist whose solo show ran in Ethiopia at the Gebre Kristos Desta Museum (GKDM) in 2016. Mutu travelled to Addis Abeba for the show and participated in talks hosted at GKDM.
According to W Magazine’s Eva McSweeney, Mutu’s art “…could be a high-concept movie: The aliens are coming, and they’ll be landing on that bastion of Western civilization, New York’s -Metropolitan Museum of Art—on September 9, to be precise. Four six-and-a-half-to-seven-foot-tall bronze female figures—part African queens, part cyborgs—will take up position in the building’s exterior niches facing Fifth Avenue that have stood empty for more than 100 years. The sculptures … (carry) all manner of poignant historical, political, and redemptive narratives along with it. An institution founded on the appropriation of antiquities and a Eurocentric view of culture is being turned on its head.” Woah! Sounds like serious Afro-Futurism at play. The Met curator, Kelly Baum, said Mutu’s “expansive vision takes into account multiple strands of the history of art as it emerged out of Africa and Europe.” You can read the article at www.wmagazine.com/story/wangechi-mutu-metropolitan-museum-of-art-sculptures.
Next is a new book, Great Women Artist, published by Phaidon “premier global publisher of the creative arts with over 1,500 titles in print.” Naturally, I tried to find out if any African artists made the book that covers 500 years, 400 artists and 54 countries. To my chagrin none were mentioned in the reviews. The book goes on sale at Amazon so when I get my copy I can hopefully have good news to share, if our Sistars made the cut. Fingers crossed for Julie and/or Wangechi. However, as mentioned, I did find some links to Ethiopia in this new publication. In 2013 I co-curated an extensive international exhibition, entitled Bridges with friend and colleague, Prof. Isabel Boavida, thanks to the then Ambassador of Portugal to Ethiopia, H.E. Ambassador Antonio Cotrim. He generously lent a part of his vast collection to the people of Ethiopia for 10 days, displayed at the National Museum of Ethiopia, where over 5,000 visitors came in droves to see the show. Well, Great Women in Artist press mentions two of the female artists whose work was in our exhibition. Namely, Paula Rego born in 1935 in Portugal and Sonia Delaunay 1885 Ukrainian-born French artist. Frankly I was not familiar with their work until the art loving Ambassador opened the Portugal Residence, flowing over with fine art, to the arts community. Needless to say, their art moved me and debunked myths of women in the 19th and 20th century not thinking and working out of the box. The catalogue we created may be seen at the National Museum.
Finally, many in the diplomatic and arts community came to know Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard, USA Ambassador to the African Union and the UNECA, as a true lover and supporter of the arts. On many occasion she opened her residence up to an eclectic mix of diplomats, artists and entrepreneurs, much like H.E. Antonio did. Her home was also filled with art from her various posts including Mali, where she served as Ambassador from 2011 to 2014. She also hosted American artists in her home such as Janet Goldner, who collaborated with Tesfahun Kibru at ETREP’s Netsa Art Village in Dima. I showed Janet and Tesfahun’s work in a group show at the UNECA last December for the 70th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. As Ambassador Mary Beth bids us farewell for Nigeria to take up post as Ambassador, we encourage the diplomatic core to continue sharing their collections with our artists and general community in an effort to bridge people to people relations through the arts. By the way, Amb Mary Beth entertained us here in Ethiopia quite often as she herself in an artist, a musician actually, with instrument of choice, the flute.
It has proven to be an excellent way to discover the varying cultures that dwell in our capital city and country for that matter and an appropriate platform to discuss and display social and even political issues from climate change to international relations. That said, I wish, Ambassador Mary Beth, who I have come to call a friend, all the best in her new position in West Africa and am confident she will find more great art to add to her collection while there.
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.