American Art in Dialogue with Africa and its Diaspora

October 4–5, 2013

Since the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, Africa has played an important—albeit shifting, contested, and often unseen—role in the history of art of the United States. American artists of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds with various agendas have imagined and depicted Africa and African peoples in their work or turned to African cultures and art objects for inspiration. Anthropologists and art historians have scrutinized African American visual production in search of cultural retentions, while many modern and contemporary black and Latino artists have alternately highlighted or occluded reference to Africa or African diasporic cultures in their work. Artists from the U.S. who have traveled to the continent or engaged firsthand with international African diasporic communities have often found themselves and their work altered by these experiences in significant and unexpected ways. More recently, globalization has facilitated multi-directional exchange and brought contemporary artists from Africa and its diaspora increasingly into contact with the mainstream U.S. art scene. This symposium examined the role of Africa and its diaspora in the development of art of the United States, from nineteenth-century portraiture to American modernism; from the Harlem Renaissance to the contemporary art world.

“American Art in Dialogue with Africa and the African Diaspora” was organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Due to the federal government shutdown, the event was held at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Part of the Terra Symposia on American Art in a Global Context, it was supported by a generous grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art. The Terra Foundation for American Art is dedicated to fostering exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of the visual arts of the United States for national and international audiences. Recognizing the importance of experiencing original works of art, the foundation provides opportunities for interaction and study, beginning with the presentation and growth of its own art collection in Chicago. To further cross-cultural dialogue on American art, the foundation supports and collaborates on innovative exhibitions, research, and educational programs. Implicit in such activities is the belief that art has the potential both to distinguish cultures and to unite them.

Symposium Webcast Playlist

Contact Us

For symposium information, please email or telephone Amelia Goerlitz at +1 (202) 633-8353. Faxes may be sent to +1 (202) 633-8372.

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