Exhibit Highlights Art Work of African Diaspora A new art exhibit, titled Flow, showcases pieces by 20 artists within the African Diaspora, who are under the age of 40. The Studio Museum in Harlem, which is known for showcasing up-and-coming artists, is hosting the show.

Exhibit Highlights Art Work of African Diaspora

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Now, onto the world of art and to an exhibit of works from the African Diaspora. It's called "Flow," and it showcases pieces by 20 artists under the age of 40. The Studio Museum in Harlem is hosting the show. The museum is known for showcasing up-and-coming artists. Within "Flow" you'll be able to see many types of work, including five elusive self-portraits by Thierry Fontaine.

In these photographs, the artist hides his face with elements including shells, clay and a shattered mirror. The exhibit also features a video by Grace Ndiritu called "The Nightingale." It shows the artist wrapping and unwrapping her head with a piece of fabric, set to music.

Thelma Golden is director and chief curator of the museum. Thelma, how are you?

Ms. THELMA GOLDEN (Director and Chief Curator, Studio Museum, Harlem): I'm great, Farai. Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: So let's start with the museum. You have done many high-profile exhibits that have helped shape the art world. So how does "Flow" fit into your vision for the museum?

Ms. GOLDEN: Our mission is that we present work by artists of African descent, locally, nationally and internationally. And that was a very long way to say that we wanted to embrace the full realm of artwork being made by black artists in the world today.

CHIDEYA: Give me a very specific description of a work that you really love or intrigues you.

Ms. GOLDEN: Well, that's hard, Farai. As a curator, you know, I am intrigued by work generally. That is what gets me up in the morning, the fact that I love looking at artwork. So they're - all the artists in this exhibition and the artworks intrigue me.

What I think is more important to me about this exhibition is that it is not just about the individual works that compel me. It really is about a shift in perspective. You know, in my world, many people have been looking east for the last decade, if not more. Asian art, you know, the subcontinent, are all really very much in the news, in the art world news. And I think really people have underestimated the amazing work that's being made by artists from the continent of Africa. And really have not been able to understand the breadth of this work.

So what intrigues me about this exhibition is how much this generation of artists are really carrying a mantle. They really are the generation that is going to teach the world what 21st century African art looks like.

CHIDEYA: The kind of exhibits you put together have a long tale. They have a ripple effect that far exceeds the duration of their stay at your museum. So what do you hope the ripple effect will be from this, either in the careers of the artists that you have featured, or in the art market itself?

Ms. GOLDEN: Well, this exhibition was organized by our associate curator, Christine Kim, with our assistant curator, Naomi Beckwith. And I know that what they hope for as curators of the exhibition working individually with these artists, and I hope for as director of the museum, is that it puts these artists and their work in the center of the contemporary art conversation. That it brings about a sense of what is going on in the minds and in the work of artists of African descent.

You know, I hope that these artists find their way into the sort of larger international art circuit, as many of them already have, and that they also begin to be an integrated part of the dialog when we begin to talk about black art as it exists here in America. You know, that's one of those complicated terms. What is black art? That's the question we're always asking. And by looking at these 20 artists, we have 20 new chapters in that book of defining what black art really is.

CHIDEYA: Do you think there's a growing market for African artists or artists of the African Diaspora? And when I use that term in this sense, I'm not speaking of people who, you know, African-Americans of the African Diaspora broadly, but people who, as in your definition, either are from a certain country or at least have parents from another country that's part of the African Diaspora.

Ms. GOLDEN: Yes, there is, Farai. There is a huge amount of interest in the work of these artists. And their work is beginning to show up not just in museums, but in the market place, in galleries, as well. And it's because there is a greater understanding of the fact that there is amazing work being made. And there's also, right now, in the contemporary art world, an interest in the international perspective. So it's why, you know, in the art world there is so much time and effort and exhibitions being spent defining the world of art.

CHIDEYA: If you had to look ahead at how people see art, do you think you can also change the ideas that we have of what art looks like?

Ms. GOLDEN: I think that we can change the idea of what art looks like. I think artists have done that for us over time. You know, until we see a work of art, we often might not consider what that artist has done art, if it's just described to us. When I think of some of the artists whose work compels me, artists like David Hammonds or Carol Walker or Lorna Simpson or Glen Ligon, you know, when I think of these artists, a lot of if I describe what their work is, people might say, well, why is that art? Cut paper on the wall. But when you see it, when you see their vision, when you understand their voice, you really are moved to understand how wide the definition of art is. So I do think that the experience of looking at art really changes for us the way in which we can understand it.

CHIDEYA: What are you doing besides showing art? What are your goals besides necessarily providing a home for people who produce art and people who view it?

Ms. GOLDEN: Well, our role at the museum is to present art. Obviously, that's at the core of the mission. But in addition to that, it's to collect art. We have a permanent collection at the Studio Museum, and that's really about the legacy, our legacy. It's about history. It's about hoping that 100 years, 200 years from now, these works will still be able to be viewed by people.

But it's also about being in the space of the production of ideas, of providing the physical space in the museum but also the sort of mental space, the intellectual space, to have people consider culture in a deep way, in an ongoing way and in an important way.

CHIDEYA: Well, Thelma, thanks so much.

Ms. GOLDEN: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Thelma Golden is director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Their exhibit, "Flow," features 20 contemporary African artists. The show runs through June 29th, and you can see pictures of some of the pieces at our web site, nprnewsandnotes.org.

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