Touching Roots: Black Ancestral Legacies in the Americas

May 26, 2022–May 21, 2023, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gallery 332

Africa is at once a point of origin and a myriad of associations—real and imagined—for many Black artists working in the Americas. In the 20th century, some artists self-consciously responded to writer and philosopher Alain LeRoy Locke’s call to engage with “those ancestral arts.” Others continued to practice African artistic traditions passed down through generations.

This exhibition traces narratives of Blackness across the Atlantic world by bringing together work from artists who absorbed and reinterpreted African artistic practices, sacred customs, and cultural expressions. The artworks honor ancestral spirits and Black legacies through painting, sculpture, textiles, and dance. Artists from throughout the Americas are represented—with a special focus on those from or working in New England, like Allan Rohan Crite, Napoleon Jones-Henderson, Ifé Franklin, Bryan McFarlane, Karen Hampton, and Stephen Hamilton. Highlights from the collection include Ubi Girl from Tai Region (1972) by Loïs Mailou Jones, African Woman (about 1933) by James Richmond Barthé, Untitled (1943) by Wifredo Lam, and George Jackson (1971) by Kofi Bailey.

Visitors can explore how shared cultural heritages created connections that formed the basis of communities, highlighting the importance of Africa’s presence in the Americas. By turning their gaze inward and toward Africa, Black artists grounded their artistic expressions and infused strength and insight into their work.

This exhibition accompanies “Stories Artists Tell: Art of the Americas, the 20th Century,” a suite of galleries spanning place and time, and exploring different themes surrounding 20th-century art from the Americas.

Outside scholars and collaborators have been essential in the conceptualization and planning of this exhibition. Many thanks to Chenoa Baker, Kyrah Malika Daniels, Napoleon Jones-Henderson, and Stephen Hamilton.

Exhibition Webpage on MFA website

Image: Loïs Mailou Jones, Ubi Girl from the Tai Region (detail), 1972, Acrylic on canvas. The Hayden Collection–Charles Henry Hayden Fund
Copyright: Loïs Mailou Jones Pierre-Noel Trust

REVIEWS

Murray Whyte, Boston Globe, July 7, 2022

Celina Colby, Bay State Banner, June 15, 2022

GBH News, August 25, 2022

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