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Exhibit Aims To Change Perceptions Of African Art

through Sept. 10, 2004 at at the UBS Gallery on Sixth Avenue in midtown.

Located at 1285 Avenue of the Americas, New York City (6th Avenue) between 51st and 52nd Streets (near Radio City and the Broadway Theater District). 

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NEW YORK -- On one side of the room, a painting depicts former Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba's arrest in his fight for justice. On another, a pristine white shrine pays quiet homage to Yoruba gods.

The two items -- one a modern political statement and the other a craft commonplace in West African villages for centuries -- are juxtaposed in "African Art Is ... ," an exhibit which aims to introduce African art to the public.

The exhibit, which opened Thursday at a gallery in midtown Manhattan, contains 75 items from 14 African countries. The items range from 19th-century pieces to modern paintings by African artists, many of whom have a personal connection to their works that goes beyond creating them. 

"Artists were affected by Apartheid, so my work represents the voicelessness of people in South Africa," said Thabiso Phokompe, 34, whose "Spiritual Journey II" is part of the exhibit.

Phokompe said the piece, made of two crossing sticks on a soil background, represents his soul.

"Spirituality was not allowed for us, so I'm trying to open channels for other artists to follow suit," Phokompe said.

The exhibit, part of the Museum for African Art's 20th anniversary celebration, contains works that have appeared in the museum's 40-some exhibits over the past two decades.

The museum is currently in a temporary space in Long Island City, Queens while it prepares for a move to Harlem in 2006.

Items in the exhibit tell stories of diverse cultures throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

For example, an Egungun costume made by the Yoruba people of Ogbomosho, Nigeria, with fabrics and shells is used in various festive ceremonies. Another piece, a stool used by Ghanian nobility, shows how important it is that nobles do not sit on the ground.

Curator Laurie Ann Farrell said the exhibit aims to change common perceptions of African art.

"A lot of people think some cultures in Africa only maintain oral histories," said Farrell. "So it's a misconception that you can only have written history. Many of these stories are told through the art."
  

Many of the pieces on display serve as functional items in African society. For example, the ladders made by the Dogon people of Mali are functional items for their makers. But to the Western eye they can be considered exquisite pieces of art.

"When you take art out of its context," Farrell said, "you can look at it as an art object or for its functionality."

Museum officials hope that the exhibit will spawn interest in African art and encourage visitors to come to their temporary space in Long Island City.

"One of the things we want to do here is expose people who haven't looked at African art before," said Jerome Vogel, deputy director. "We're reaching out and making it visible to many people."

The exhibit runs through Sept. 10 at at the UBS Gallery on Sixth Avenue in midtown. Located at 1285 Avenue of the Americas, New York City (6th Avenue) between 51st and 52nd Streets (near Radio City and the Broadway Theater District). 

POSTED: 9:59 am EDT July 2, 2004 © 2004 by The Associated Press
Found at http://www.wnbc.com/entertainment/3485862/detail.html 

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