Museum of African Art opens doors

By Paul Ndiho
February 25, 2011
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington has opened its doors to an exhibit showcasing African and Brazilian art.
“Artists in Dialogue Two (II)” chronicles works by artist Sandile Zulu from South Africa and Henrique Oliveira from Brazil. Karen Milbourne, museum curator says the interaction between the artists began a year ago, when they met at the museum to survey the gallery space.
“An artist who works with what we’d consider to be very transitional idioms of art history. Here you have an artist like Sandile Zulu who is working in the vocabulary of the minimal list… He’s work is very clean, it’s very essential, it’s real just the essence of a very profound message and yet he’s using it instead of the classical painting but doing it with fire.”
Zulu makes designs on his white canvases using fire, water, and earth, his trademark technique. His muted color patterns are seen near the entrance of the gallery, while Oliveira’s dynamic forms emerge from the back. Oliveira’s two giant, wood installations bulge out from the wall like snarled tree roots, looking like two elephants.
Milbourne says Henrique Oliveira was inspired by Zulu’s use of fire.

“He has taken this unyielding material and also worked in this vocabulary also something very familiar of painting but taking you to someplace else… So you have these classical starting points and yet there is nothing classical about these two artists.
“Arts in Dialogue Two (II)” is a way to celebrate ties between Africa and the African Diaspora, according to Museum Director Dr. Johnnetta Cole:
“A museum is at its best is in the story telling business, but I think it’s a mistake if we think that there is only one story to be told, and we got it memorized and just hope that everybody who leaves the museum has the same story. But the extra- ordinarily thing about being in a relationship with this continent is that it will then take you into the Diaspora, it will then take you into the rest of the world, and that’s a lot of stories.”
Oliveira builds his paintings in layers, much like a collage, splattering different colors. His paintings are busy with abstract shapes, popping with bright colors. “Artists in Dialogue Two” is on display at Washington’s Museum of African Art through December. So if you are in DC, after many hours of braving the cold weather, shopping, sight-seeing…! You might want to pass at the museum and see for yourself.


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