The Middlebury College Museum of Art’s newest special exhibit, “Environment and Object: Recent African Art” showcases works from a number of African artists that speak to problems within their respective environments, be they man-made or natural.
The works in the collection are highly critical of man-made disasters affecting natural environments and ways of life, such as deforestation and the draining of natural resources. Many artists have used found objects and items destined for landfills in their pieces, such as plastic bags, bottles and bottle caps (the latter of which come primarily from bottles of alcohol, revealing further problems within society) as a means of creating visually compelling and argumentative works of art.
The predominant aim of the exhibit is to reject any and all romanticized views of Africa held by westerners, primarily by calling attention to conditions affecting the continent as a means of fostering conversation and awareness.
Pieces in the exhibit can be found hanging in the CFA lobby and on the second floor of the museum, in addition to a single interactive room on the ground floor of the museum. Viyé Diba’s “Nous sommes nombreux…” asks viewers to walk through the gallery, while avoiding three-dimensional objects that have been strewn about the floor. It’s harder than it seems, and viewers have no choice but to tip-toe carefully about the room. The wide variety of works displayed are worth viewing, if for no reason other than the fact that many of Africa’s issues are some of our own.
Prominent African artists such as El Anatsui and Zwelethu Mthethwa, as well as emerging talents Lara Baladi and Nnenna Okore are featured in the exhibition.
“Environment and Object: Recent African Art” runs through April 22 at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. The show was installed at Skidmore College (NY) and Virginia Commonwealth University (VA) before traveling to Vermont.