For one night only, Gainesville museumgoers found themselves immersed in the culture of a place far from Alachua County: Africa.
The Harn Museum of Art hosted “Africa Everywhere,” an Africa-themed exhibition event Thursday. Celebrating the “beauty of the arts of Africa and the African diaspora,” the program was one of Harn’s many Museum Nights: monthly showcases that allow visitors to interact with unique art, speakers and attractions. The featured artwork will still be available for viewing following the event.
Thursday’s showcase spotlighted “Posing Beauty in African American Culture,” the museum’s newest exhibition, as well as select pieces of artwork by artists across Africa. The exhibit is available to visitors until June 4.
Featuring pieces with Ghanaian, Ethiopian, Kenyan and South African influence, the exhibit provided some attendees, such as Danielle Ramsaroop, a 20-year-old UF psychology sophomore, with an opportunity to explore their heritage.
“I do want to know more of my roots,” Ramsaroop said. “I’m hoping that by looking at these artistic things I’ll be able to figure it out.”
Being in the presence of authentic African artwork motivated her to learn more about her Malian and Nigerian ancestry, she said.
The Harn’s showcase also gave a platform to several American-born artists, highlighting the transglobal influence of African patterns on their projects. These creators included Kehinde Wiley, whose contemporary portrait of former President Barack Obama skyrocketed him to fame in 2018.
“Dogon Couple,” Wiley’s vibrant depiction of two Senegalese men, marked the entrance of Thursday’s exhibit collection. As the museum attracted a steady stream of visitors throughout the evening, many stopped to stare at its African prints and contrasting colors.
For Augusto Soledade, a UF dance professor, Wiley’s painting drew him further into the showcase.
“I love Kehinde Wiley’s paintings,” he said. “I was mesmerized by the level of detail and realism you can see in it.”
As a descendant of Africans himself, Soledade spoke to the importance of Wiley’s work on informing others of the modern aspect of African culture.
“Africa is not only about the past,” he said. “It’s about the present and the future.”
Karen Garren, a 69-year-old UF alum, said appreciating the African continent starts with being open to learning new perspectives. Since visiting eastern Africa in the 1980s, she’s been interested in learning more about the region and encouraging others to do the same, she said.
“We’re a global humanity,” Garren said. “We have to learn from each other.”
Culture was a central part of “Africa Everywhere,” which featured performances by the UF Afro Pop and Agbedidi Ensembles.
Kristen Louder, a 22-year-old UF alum and performer at the event, said participating left her excited to see a more culturally diverse Gainesville community.
“I am always open to put on a show for my Black community…in the Gainesville area,” Louder said. “It’s very important for everyone to come out here and see Black culture.”
As the sounds of traditional West African instruments filled Harn’s exhibit hall, some attendees were prompted to reflect on the powers of cultural appreciation. To Kuwala Ngwee Avery, a 69-year-old retired UF business specialist, the sounds of African drums were healing for her, she said.
“Being a part of my African history brings me joy,” she said. “I’m so happy to have reunited with my people that we were separated from many years ago.”
It’s vital to celebrate African culture during Black History Month due to the significant ties between the U.S. and African history, Avery said.
“In spite of all the pain and suffering that people went through, this place represents many different cultures,” she said. “That’s important to continue – we’re meant to be a part of the whole Earth.”
Contact Halima at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @HalimaAttah.
Halima Attah is a first-year journalism student and university reporter for The Alligator. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her thrifting on Depop or listening to her carefully curated Spotify playlists.