UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

Design of NC Museum of Art’s new African art gallery

This summer the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) in Raleigh will open a new, expanded African art gallery, and UNCG art history professor Dr. Elizabeth Perrill serves as the consulting curator, playing a large role in the gallery’s overall design.

The expanded gallery, to be located in the museum’s East Building, will include maps that reveal the geographic origins of diverse African artistic traditions and themes that span 16 centuries. It will feature ceramics, textiles, jewelry, metal works, wooden sculptures and architectural details, and includes 109 pieces that have never been seen before in a public exhibition or have not been exhibited in decades.

The East Building African Art Gallery will hold pieces from more than 25 African countries, as well as artists working in the global African Diaspora. Perrill and the museum staff have designed the layout especially with audience education in mind. They examined the design of over a dozen national museums, and they also conducted audience research to determine groupings and terminology that would invite rather than intimidate museum-goers. Their plan provides a geographical orientation for the viewer, dividing the artifacts into five general regions (Northern, Western, Central, Eastern, and Southern) and also grouping them by theme, such as “Golden Regalia,” and “Geometry and Abstraction.” The regions will be joined centrally by a masquerade platform which will hold objects and fully-reconstructed costumes used in masquerades in several regions. The gallery also includes a two-story space for contemporary African art.

Perrill is especially looking forward to the more ephemeral parts of the gallery—for example, headdresses, masks, and other delicate objects which are able to be on display only because of the greater environmental control available for the new space.

“The good thing about this new space is that it can go to even lower light levels—there’s a lot more for opportunity for control in the new space,” she said.

As one of the most ephemeral and contemporary parts of the gallery, June 5 through 8, Nigerian-born and D.C.-based artist Victor Ekpuk will, over the course of a week, create a 30 by 18 foot chalk mural which will be on display for a year. While the mural is up, immigrants and refugees from Africa who now live in North Carolina will be invited to a lunch and conversation about the piece, and they will also be invited to participate in the clearing of the mural the following year, an act similar to many spiritually significant moments in many African cultural traditions.

Perrill said, “Victor is thinking a lot about what it means to be a new American and an African immigrant. To connect with people in North Carolina who resonate with that experience–that was my big goal.”

Another part of the gallery that Perrill cites as especially meaningful will be the North Carolina Collector’s Wall, a space that will display pieces from North Carolina collections. The first pieces that will occupy the space are from the Bennett College collection, made up of pieces directly from the family that founded the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. After those items are rotated to storage, they will be replaced by other pieces procured from North Carolina institutions or private collections.

“This is to remind people that this is our state museum,” Perrill said. “If we can feature all the institutions in the state that have African art and build ties, it’s only going to strengthen art in North Carolina.”

Read more about how Perrill has curated the new NCMA African art gallery, and how she shares that experience with UNCG students  here.

By Susan Kirby-Smith

Artist’s rendering of the future art gallery courtesy NCMA.