Tang fuels environmental thought

Posted by Sarina Sheth

On Saturday Feb. 5, the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery will open a new exhibit. The exhibit, "Environment and Object in Recent African Art," features contemporary art that responds to environmental issues on the African continent.

Co-curators Lisa Aronson, associate professor of art history, and John Weber, director of the Tang Museum, have collaborated to bring this unique collection together.

Aronson, who has taught courses on African Art at the college since 1984, expressed excitement about the exhibit's emphasis on contemporary work.

"It is an eye opener for students because it doesn't fit the paradigm about African art. It changes the western perspective," Aronson said.

Romuald Hazoumé's series of masks, created out of found or recycled materials, dialogues with preconceived notions about African art. The masks are vibrant and colorful, although composed of post-consumer products like containers and telephones.

Artist Bright Ugochukwu Eke has been working with four students to create an installation made almost entirely of water bottles from campus.

The large piece features the bottles in concentric circles suspended from the ceiling. The installation explores the idea of a ripple and "the things water and men do to each other," Eke said.

"Environment and Object in Recent African Art" forces viewers to confront environmental issues. Themes of oil exploitation and corrupt government are central in the exhibit.

Photographer George Osodi's prints present horrific scenes of oil field explosions in Nigeria. Another photographer, Barthélémy Toguo, comments on environmental issues with less literal pieces such as his, "Stupid African President 2," which depicts a man with a chainsaw atop his head. His approach to deforestation uses humor to contrast with devastating reality.

Though the art focuses on the African continent, there is an element of universality and urgency to the exhibit. The political and ecological focus does not sacrifice beauty either.

El Anatsui's large piece, "Some Still Come Back," hangs iridescent in the gallery. The unusual piece is made up of liquor bottle caps and wire. The oddly beautiful wall hanging provokes reflection.

"It makes us think differently about things we throw away and our relationship to consumption," Weber said.

At 5 p.m. on Feb. 5, co-curators Aronson and Weber will moderate a dialogue in the Payne Room with artists Viyé Diba, Bright Ugochukwu Eke and Barthélémy Toguo, along with art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu of Princeton University prior to the exhibit's opening at 6 p.m.

"Environment and Object in Recent African Art" has both a surprising creative range and an overwhelming political force. It is a collection that forces viewers to reject inaccurate perceptions of African art and challenge their relationship to eminent global concerns.

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