MoMA and Africa: Looking Back, Moving Forward
A talk by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi
“Over the past several years, MoMA has sought to redress the ways in which African art and artists are presented and represented in global art history. In addition to making key acquisitions to amplify the presence of African artists at the Museum, it has organized important monographic exhibitions, such as Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams in 2018 and more recently, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: World Unbound in 2022. My talk examines MoMA’s history with African modernism that began in 1960 when the institution acquired Men Taking Banana Beer to Bride, a 1956 painting by the East African modernist Sam Ntiro. It will address MoMA’s recent collecting strategies that seek to connect this consequential period of modernist flourish in Africa and contemporary practices by African artists.”
An event co-organized by AiR 351 and FLAD, made possible thanks to the FLAD generous support.
Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi is the first Steven and Lisa Tananbaum Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA, New York. He leads the Africa group in the Museum’s Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives (C-MAP), MoMA’s internal research and exchange initiative devoted to art in a global context. His projects at MoMA include the exhibition Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: World Unbound (2022). Prior to joining MoMA, Nzewi was Curator of African Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art (2017–19), where he organized Second Careers: Two Tributaries in African Art (2020) and co-organized Ama: The Gathering Place (2019). Before Cleveland, Nzewi was Curator of African Art at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum (2013–17). There, his exhibitions included Inventory: New Works and Conversations around African Art (2016), and he spearheaded the acquisition of works by artists such as Kader Attia, Candice Brietz, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Julie Mehretu, and Obiora Udechukwu.
Nzewi has co-curated major international exhibitions including the Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal, in 2014. He also served on the curatorial team of the 11th Shanghai Biennale in 2016–17, and a collaborator with the Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain de la Région Centre (FRANC) Orlean, France, for its inaugural architecture biennale in October 2017.
Nzewi holds a PhD in art history from Emory University. As an artist, he has exhibited internationally and is represented in public and private collections including the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC, and Newark Museum, New Jersey.