Veteran journalist Carl Hoffman believes he’s solved one of the great mysteries of the 20th century. In 1961 at the age of 23, Michael Rockefeller – son of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and a member of one of the richest and most powerful families in America ¬– travelled to remote New Guinea in search of primitive art for his father’s new museum.
Museum Documents African-American Struggles, Accomplishments
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The National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio reopened several months ago after a two-year renovation project. Currently on display at the museum is the exhibition titled “How I Got Over.”
The exhibition is made up of more than 70 art objects from the museum’s permanent collection. Aleia Brown is the museum’s curator.
“There are all different types of art work,” Brown says. “There’s drawings, paintings, — oil, acrylic, watercolor – there are collages, metalwork, there are assemblages, so it really shows the wide range of art that we have and also the wide range of art that African Americans have made.”
The exhibit has three major themes: spirituality, protest, and celebration. As you walk from space to space you’re also confronted by language that’s sometimes, uplifting, sometimes harsh.
“When people step into the gallery they’ll look down and see obstacles that African Americans had to overcome,” Brown says. “However when they look up on the walls you’ll see positive words that are uplifting. For example, pride, heritage, strength, faith. And then when you look down you’ll see jail, profiling, illiteracy, segregation, so it kind of gives you a sense of some of the things that African Americans had to overcome.”
Stand before one piece with striking colors and you get a sense of patriotism. But look closer and you see captivity.
“There’s a needle in his right hand and his veins are bulging. And it shows how damaging drugs can be to a person. So it’s really making a statement no matter how glamorous a lifestyle might seem it’s not good for you and we should turn away from it,” Brown says.
In a confining enclosure in the gallery there’s a painting that depicts the swollen face of Emmett Till who was lynched in Mississippi.
“His mother chose for him to have an open casket so that the world could see the atrocities that were being committed,” Brown says.
There are also wood carvings depicting the transport of Africans aboard slave ships.
“We really get a sense of how awful it must have been. You think about people being shackled and not being able even to move their head; that’s a pretty horrific experience,” Brown says.
But, Brown says, not all the images are negative or disturbing.
“There are a lot of positive images for example the dance pictures; they really celebrate the uniqueness of African American life and culture. And then we also have a lot of portraits that show African American pride and African American accomplishment,” Brown says.
Aleia Brown is curator at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce. The exhibition “How I Got Over” is on display through the end of the year.