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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art will open a newly renovated entry pavilion Friday, Oct. 25. Featuring a major new commission by globally celebrated Ethiopian artist Elias Sime, the pavilion will welcome visitors to the building with a significant new selection of works from the full range of the museum’s encyclopedic collection of African art.
The pavilion is a connecting point through which visitors access the museum’s sublevel galleries, exhibitions and programmatic spaces. With this renovation, the pavilion’s role as an orientation point emphasizes the museum as an institution dedicated to inviting visitors locally and globally into the narratives that engage the African continent and inform its arts.
Sime’s new site-specific work, “We Are All Green,” was made for the museum this year in his studio outside of Addis Ababa. The work continues and extends Sime’s celebrated project of repurposing and aesthetically and metaphorically engaging with found materials, which in the past have included elements such as computer motherboards, electrical wires, keyboards and cell phone components. This new work by Sime—the first in an anticipated series of future commissions from significant contemporary African artists for the pavilion’s walls—reinforces this space and the museum’s newly reinvigorated role as a place of connection, meeting and discovery.
In that same spirit, visitors will be invited to explore more of the museum’s collection through the introduction of two touch tables. Developed by the museum in partnership with the New Mexico-based interactive exhibition design company Ideum, these touch tables will allow visitors to discover and learn more about several hundred collection objects, orienting them geographically and historically in space and time, while also directing visitors to find selected works of art in the museum’s galleries below. Visitors will also be able to consider the statement “Africa Is…” through layers of maps, images and other interactive content that invite visitors into conversations about Africa as a continent that is, among other things, huge, complex, vocal, diverse and connected.
Architecturally, walls in the pavilion have been streamlined and brightened to give a welcoming feel to the space and to create more room for museum events, while the space’s overall layout has been reconfigured. Visitors will now be greeted by a new reception desk on the east wall, surmounted by El Anatsui’s major “Untitled” (2009) sculpture made of repurposed metal, while the west wall will be the site of a new, flexible stage, flanked by two dense display cases containing over 40 permanent collection works selected by the curatorial team. The artworks selected for the display cases speak to the geographic, material and temporal diversity of the collection, including both well-known masterworks and new acquisitions.
“The redesigned pavilion at the National Museum of African Art will welcome and inspire our visitors, introducing them to the rich narratives and histories of knowledge that inform the arts and cultures of the African continent,” said Gus Casely-Hayford, director of the museum. “In the future, we anticipate adding a large-format screen that will enable colleagues on the continent and elsewhere to participate in our programs and to share their expertise with our museum audiences. This is all part of our museum’s wider Africa initiative designed to develop and sustain meaningful collaborations and knowledge sharing with our African colleagues on the continent and in its diasporas.”
Programs and Outreach
The opening of the redesigned pavilion coincides with the museum’s fourth annual African Art Awards Friday, Oct. 25, at 8 p.m. Recognizing the best in contemporary African art, this event honors the achievements of global contemporary artists Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Sime. Both artists use principles of connection to express critical view points, further influencing the way the world experiences the dynamic and diverse arts of Africa.
A public talk with 2019 African Art Award-recipient Crosby will take place Saturday, Oct. 26, at 3:30 p.m. in the museum’s pavilion.
About the National Museum of African Art
The 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 12,000 artworks represents the diversity of the African continent and includes a variety of media—from sculpture and painting, to photography, pottery, jewelry, textile, video and sound art. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. The museum is located at 950 Independence Ave. S.W., near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. For more information about this program, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the museum’s website at africa.si.edu. For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000.
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