Original Site-specific Works by Artists from Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo Go on View in “Artists in Dialogue” at National Museum of African Art

December 8, 2008
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“Artists in Dialogue: António Ole and Aimé Mpane,” on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art from Feb. 4, 2009, through Aug. 2, 2009, is the first in a series of exhibitions in which two artists are invited to create new work at the museum, each in response to the other. Ole, who lives in Angola, and Mpane, who divides his time between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Belgium, will spend two weeks at the museum in late January installing the site-specific works. Earlier works by the two artists will be displayed as well.

Ole and Mpane, who may not yet be familiar to U.S. audiences, bring their subtle and sophisticated manipulation of found and unlikely materials to create visually rich, multimedia installations that speak to the political and economic challenges of their home countries. Each artist has maintained a close tie to his homeland, despite the challenges this might pose. These connections to human and natural environments of their native land permeates their work. Prompted by the museum, the two men met in Portugal for the first time in the summer of 2008.

Ole has been creating and exhibiting work since he was a teenager; the selection of works on view span his 40-year career. From the crisp Pop art style of his youth to his subtle and evocative assemblages and installations, Ole’s work prompts viewers to consider challenging subject matter: poverty, political hypocrisy, territorialism, violence and decay. At the same time, his work is motivated by an appreciation for the beauty of small things and the aesthetics of poverty. All of these works are on view in the United States for the first time.

Mpane achieved international recognition in 2006 and has been a rising star since. A versatile artist who works in painting, prints, sculpture, video and installation, here he brings his commanding skill with human expression and the figure to make probing explorations of the history and present state of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Appearing together for the first time,” said curator Karen Milbourne, “Ole and Mpane present a selection of both established and new works that provide insight into their personal visions and to the manner in which they communicate visually with one another and diverse audiences.”

Educational Programs and Catalog
“Artists in Dialogue” has a strong educational component. “The exhibition is a dialogue between the two artists, a dialogue between the artists and the curator and a dialogue between the artists and the museum’s visitors,” said Milbourne. With that in mind, the artists will welcome students from local colleges into the gallery to show them their process and speak about their careers, will visit local art and art history classes and participate in a free public program. On Feb. 6 at 6:30 p.m. in a “Conversation with the Artists,” Mpane and Ole will discuss their work and new installation, chatting with each other as well as the audience in the gallery. In addition, several Web activities are planned. Visit Africa.si.edu.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a catalog will be published in the spring.

The exhibition “Artists in Dialogue” and its outreach programs are sponsored by De Beers, the world’s leading diamond company. “The arts and the freedom of expression they represent are critical to the progress of civil societies, and especially in developing communities,” said Rosalind Kainyah, president of De Beers Inc. in the United States. “De Beers is proud to do its part by enabling flourishing African artists like António Ole and Aimé Mpane to represent their communities and share their work on a global stage.”

About the National Museum of African Art
The National Museum of African Art is America’s only museum dedicated to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of traditional and contemporary African art. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. Admission is free. The museum is located at 950 Independence Avenue S.W., near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about this exhibition, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the museum’s Web site at Africa.si.edu. For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 633-5285.

About De Beers
De Beers, established in 1888, is the world’s leading diamond company with expertise in the exploration, mining and marketing of diamonds. De Beers and its joint venture partners operate in 25 countries across five continents. From its mining operations across Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Canada, De Beers produces and markets about 40 percent of the world’s supply of rough diamonds. As part of the company’s operating philosophy, the people of De Beers are committed to “Living up to Diamonds” by making a lasting contribution to the communities in which they live and work.

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Note to Editors: To arrange an interview with the artists, curator or sponsor, contact Janice Kaplan at (202) 277-5461 or janicelkaplan@aol.com. For selected high-resolution images for publicity, contact Kimberly Mayfield at (202) 633-4649.