The Yale University Art Gallery presented plans to reinstall its African Art Collection on Wednesday.
Barbara Plankensteiner, the Frances and Benjamin Benenson Foundation Curator of African Art at the YUAG, unveiled the plans at a Wednesday lecture. The African Art Collection closed Monday and is expected to re-open sometime in the late fall or early December, Plankensteiner said.
The new collection — which is moving from the YUAG’s fourth floor to its more spacious first floor — will feature pieces from the original display, along with some new selections from the Gallery’s holdings. The reinstallation will be displayed in a “friendly, bright ambience,” with patches of color as attention-grabbing backgrounds. Designed to provide viewers with an opportunity to engage with and contemplate the rich cultural traditions of Africa, Plankensteiner said her new design will feature major differences in display and thematic grouping.
“One line of interpretation would reflect intercontinental and transcultural connection in African art,” Plankensteiner said. “In the wake of the ‘global turn’ of art history, concepts of national identity have been overcome by hybridities.”
Moving away from a strictly chronological approach to display, Plankensteiner’s new grouping highlights the historical interconnectivity of global cultures, the original functions of pieces and the history of the collection itself.
Plankensteiner said she aims to show how African art has been influenced by a variety of perspectives, adding that the Collection will include some artwork and textiles exhibiting Islamic and Hispanic influences. The pieces are meant to counter the outdated conception held among traditional African art curators that authentic African art must be “untainted” by foreign contact. The reinstallation will convey the way in which African artists drew from the world around them, including shifts in their own societies, Plankensteiner noted.
In addition to labels providing contextual information for visitors, the reinstallation will feature an interactive media system offering more in-depth information pertaining to specific pieces, as well as supplemental images and moving pictures.
The grouping together of traditional gendered iconography — featuring representations of the female and male forms — reflects social roles designated by gender and societal concepts of beauty, Plankensteiner said. Women, for instance, are depicted as objects of desire or maternal archetypes.
Masks representing animals will “address relations between nature and culture.”
Adjacent to the first-floor gallery containing the reinstallation, the YUAG lobby will feature an exhibit devoted to contemporary African artwork.
One piece that will be displayed is Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu’s 2006 collage “My Strength Lies.” Mutu’s work uses the female form to analyze broader issues such as colonialism, hunger and consumption, containing feminist and Afro-futurist undertones.
Though the current collection lacks a diverse body of contemporary and modern African artwork, Plankensteiner said she hopes to begin making steps toward representing more time periods.
But, as former Curator of African Art Frederick John Lamp GRD ’82 noted, discussion over the proper placement of contemporary African artwork persists in the art community. At the YUAG, Lamp said, contemporary and African art curators have yet to reach consensus as to whose collection should contain contemporary African art.
Steph Barker ’19, a South African native, expressed her excitement for Plankensteiner’s fresh approach to African Art Collection.
She said she hopes the reinstallation will provide a more comprehensive survey of African art, covering a broader scope of time and more regions of the massive continent.
“It’s really easy to put forward ideas of what people expect Africa to be,” Barker said.
The YUAG is located at 1111 Chapel St.