MoAD focuses on hybrids of new traditions and old cultures that issue from forces such as slavery, war, famine, and technology. While several of the artworks examine our global connection to ancient Africa, the more recent dispersal of Africans during the time of the Middle Passage is also studied in the context of endurance and the universality of human struggle. And since people have both preserved and reinvented their cultures through movement, the collective story MoAD tells is not solely Africa's.
Two major exhibitions open the new museum: "Linkages and Themes in the African Diaspora" and "Made in Africa." The first is made up of pieces from art-collector heavyweights Eileen Harris Norton and Peter Norton, and consists of mixed media, photos, paintings, and video that blend folky primitivism with dystopic dreamscapes of urban life. Artists in the exhibition include Kenyan-born Wangechi Mutu, whose ink-soaked collages of idealized female body parts are signifiers of civil strife and political instability; and Cuban-born Belkis Ayon, whose wraithlike black-and-white prints fuse animal, plant, and human. Ayon's pictorial myths enact stories of the Abakua, an all-male secret society in the early 1800s that was essentially an underground resistance movement against Spanish rule on the continent.
"Made in Africa," on loan from London's British Museum, takes viewers back to the glory days of Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge, where some of the oldest cutting implements in the world were unearthed. The show comprises three stone tools mounted atop plinths, giving visitors a 360-degree view. The museum even ups the wow factor by allowing visitors the opportunity to handle the stones. In the words of MoAD Director V. Denise Bradley, in addition to inducing awe, "These objects speak directly to a key premise of our program -- that human life, society, technology, and art all began in Africa." For those of us who missed the dawn of civilization, MoAD's opening might be the closest we get to an encore presentation. -- Nirmala Nataraj