“From the Deep: In the Wake of Drexciya with Ayana V. Jackson” Opens April 29 at National Museum of African Art

Exhibition Imagines Powerful Underwater World of African Spirits
March 21, 2023
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Exterior of African Art museum

“From the Deep: In the Wake of Drexciya with Ayana V. Jackson” will be on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art starting Saturday, April 29. Known for the deftness with which she confronts the racialization and sexualization of Black bodies, Jackson’s exhibition departs from her previous practice focusing on the historic archive of images of women of color with all-new works of speculative fiction that bring to life an immersive, feminist and sacred aquatopia inspired by the legend of Drexciya.

In the 1990s, Drexciya, a Detroit-based techno duo made up of James Stinson and Gerald Donald, imagined an underwater kingdom populated by the children of pregnant women who had been thrown overboard or jumped into the ocean during the Middle Passage. Drexciya’s founding myth has inspired numerous artists, among them Jackson, who uses her own body in her lens-based works to ask that people reckon with the brutal history that cast these humans to the sea while simultaneously envisioning a word of powerful, resilient women. 

“Jackson’s artworks are more than just visually stunning,” said Karen Milbourne, senior curator and acting head of knowledge production at the National Museum of African Art. “They honor generations of survivors while not shying away from the horror and suffering of the transatlantic trafficking in enslaved Africans. They demand that we address our shared past and acknowledge sacred powers. Her vision opens a new way of seeing the world.” 

On display through April 2024, the exhibition is curated by Milbourne. In addition to original photographs, video, animation, installation, scent and sound, the exhibition includes costumes designed in collaboration with Rama Diaw of Saint Louis, Senegal; Olabangi “Cheddar” Arowoshola of Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana; and Mwambi Wassaki of Luanda, Angola. 

A ticketed opening event is planned for the evening of Friday, April 28, and the artist and curator will offer a tour of the exhibition Saturday, April 29. A catalog will accompany the exhibition with contributions by N’Gone Fall, Marta Moreno Vega, Brad Fox, Greg Tate and Ingrid LaFleur.

About Ayana V. Jackson

Born in Livingston, New Jersey (1977) with adopted family in Ghana, Jackson lives and works between Brooklyn, New York; Johannesburg; and Paris. Her experiences in three continents infuse and inform her historically charged and deeply relevant practice. She weds her sociologist’s background with in-depth research into the history of photography, African religions, fashion history and cutting-edge Afrofuturist philosophy to create new works that generate profound impact.

This exhibition presents the artist’s first foray into video and animation, her first monographic museum exhibition and the first presentation of her most recent body of work. The research for this new work began with a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in 2017. With it, Jackson delved into Smithsonian collections and archives and engaged with scholars at the National Museum of African Art, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. For “From the Deep,” she became certified as a master diver and collaborated with creative artists across the African continent and in Trinidad and Tobago to custom design each garment, design the sound, perform the dive underwater, film and edit the video, generate the animations and create a speculative world.

About the National Museum of African Art

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of Africa’s arts across time and media. The museum’s collection of over 13,000 artworks spans more than 1,000 years of African history and includes a variety of media from across the continent. For more information, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the museum’s website. For general Smithsonian information, the public can call (202) 633-1000. Follow the museum on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

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Linda St. Thomas