Oberlin Exhibitions Explore Legacy of the Slave Trade, Everyday Objects of Asia, and Ukiyo-e Prints
THE REMARKABLE BREADTH of the Allen Memorial Art Museum’s collection shines in three exhibitions that run through late May at Oberlin College.
Afterlives of the Black Atlantic presents works from the United States, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa that explore the complexities of memory, identity, and belonging in the wake of the transatlantic slave trade. The exhibition—commemorating 400 years since the first captive Africans stepped ashore in colonial Virginia—places contemporary artworks in dialogue with historical objects, giving context to artistic works that engage with the history of slavery and its continued relevance.
By calling attention to the impacts of human trafficking, cultural exchange, and trauma that still bind the territories on the Atlantic rim, Afterlives invites nuanced conversations about routes and mapping, consumption and trade, diaspora and dispersal, and identity and belonging.
From the Allen’s collection come contemporary works by Belkis Ayón, José Bedia, Dawoud Bey, Willie Cole, Leonardo Drew, Edouard Duval-Carrié, Vik Muniz, Alison Saar, Carrie Mae Weems, Fred Wilson, and others.
A number of loaned works rounds out the show. Robert Pruitt’s For Whom the Bell Curves, an installation of gold chains, evokes the paths of slave ships and the shackles that bound the enslaved. A video by Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu, in which she sings “Amazing Grace” in her native language, provides a somber soundtrack for the gallery. A site-specific work by José Rodríguez references the Virgin of Regla, a Black Cuban saint who is also the Yorùbá òrìṣà Yemayá, deity of motherhood and the ocean. The monumental figure invites viewers to reflect on the ongoing transatlantic exchange and evolution of religious forms stemming from West African cultures.
Utilitarian objects become magical in an exhibition of East Asian decorative arts from the Allen’s permanent collection. The Enchantment of the Everyday presents functional items made with luxurious materials: gold-dusted lacquer, ivory carved into intricate scenes, silk tapestry and embroidery, amber, coral, and cloisonné. The objects include table settings, combs and hairpins, belt toggles, document boxes, snuff bottles, and more. All showcase the inspiration, ingenuity, and technical accomplishments of artists working in these diverse mediums.
An exhibition of Japanese woodblock prints, freshly returned from a six-month tour of three cities in Japan, opens on January 14 and runs through June 14. The Allen’s installation of Ukiyo-e Prints from the Mary Ainsworth Collection comprises nearly 150 works from the Oberlin alumna’s 1950 bequest of more than 1,500 prints—the first show in decades solely devoted to this extensive collection. A catalogue accompanies the exhibition.
AFTERLIVES OF THE BLACK ATLANTIC I THROUGH MAY 24
THE ENCHANTMENT OF THE EVERYDAY: EAST ASIAN DECORATIVE ARTS FROM THE PERMANENT COLLECTION I THROUGH JULY 19
UKIYO-E PRINTS FROM THE MARY AINSWORTH COLLECTION I JANUARY 14–JUNE 14
ALLEN MEMORIAL ART MUSEUM
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