December 30, 2019

“Afterlives of the Black Atlantic” at Allen Memorial Art Museum @ Hyperallergic

OBERLIN, Ohio—The “Black Atlantic” is a cultural and geographic concept coined in 1993 by Paul Gilroy, and proposes a theory of the African diaspora that addresses points of origin obscured by slave trade and forced displacement, drawing identity from the bonds formed in the course of transport across the Atlantic Ocean. As Gilroy would have it, this produced “a culture that is not specifically African, American, Caribbean, or British, but all of these at once, a black Atlantic culture whose themes and techniques transcend ethnicity and nationality to produce something new …” In a show that opened earlier this year at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, Afterlives of the Black Atlantic teases out aesthetics and individual visions that arise from this context. The show was co-curated by Andrea Gyorody, Ellen Johnson ’33 Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Matthew Francis Rarey, Assistant Professor of the Arts of Africa and the Black Atlantic, and Oberlin’s first African Diasporic specialist.

“We met shortly after I was hired in 2017,” said Gyorody, during a gallery tour with Hyperallergic. “And [Rarey] mentioned, sort of offhandedly, that 2019 would be the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of [the first] slave ships in the United States.” This sparked a discussion that evolved into the mounting of Afterlives, which brings together works from the United States, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa, drawn mostly from the AMAM collection, and supplemented by several loans and a site-specific commission by José Rodríguez. This work, titled “\sə-kər\” presents as an 12-foot Virgin of Regla — patron saint of the city of Havana and an adaptive form of the Orisha Yemayá, who protects the seas — identifiable by her regalia though the garments have been hollowed out to create a kind of open teepee, and the face has been replaced by a mirror that captures the visage of the viewer as she approaches.

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