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Complicating the narrative

The AGO’s new Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora Department launches with a bold acquisition.

Moridja Kitenge Banza, Christ Pantocrator No 13

Moridja Kitenge Banza, Christ Pantocrator No 13, 2020 acrylic and gold leaf on wood 40 x 30 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario, Purchase, with assistance from the Christian Claude Fund. Photo courtesy of Galerie Hugues Charbonneau.

 

The global footprint of Africa is vast. Through centuries of migration, people of African descent have populated every inch of the globe, building a wealth of diverse cultures. This mosaic is made up of distinct regional identities that coalesce, illustrating a collective narrative—the brilliance of which can be uniquely expressed through its art. 

Recently the AGO announced the establishment of a brand new department—named Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora. Led by Dr. Julie Crooks, formerly the AGO Associate Curator, Photography, the department will focus on acquiring, exhibiting and building programming around art from Africa and the African diaspora. Encompassing historic, modern and contemporary work, this collection will expand the AGO’s scope of art representing Black Atlantic histories while adding further complexity and context to the AGO Collection as a whole. 

Under her new title, Curator, Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, Crooks has hit the ground running, recently acquiring the department’s first work. Moridja Kitenge Banza’s Christ Pantocrator No 13 (2020) is a stunning painting that showcases an aesthetic hybrid of classical African art and Christian iconography. “Moridja’s work is fitting as the department’s first acquisition in the ways in which it exemplifies the complexities of contemporary African art practices in the diaspora,” says Crooks, who jumped at the opportunity to acquire the piece at this year’s Art Toronto.     

Christ Pantocator No 13 depicts Jesus, in the style of European religious portraiture, donning a traditional mask from the Dan people of Liberia—a juxtaposition that complicates both our ideas of sacredness and our understanding of the relationship between African artifacts and museums. It is part of a series of works from the artist exploring this discourse. 

The artist, Moridja Kitenge Banza said, “In most African societies, the mask is made for use in sacred rites or ceremonies celebrating birth, death, or harvest. Moving them into a museum context as a fixed element in a display case, they find themselves cut off from their original context ... Thus each of these paintings evolves towards a very current discourse on the relevance of museum collections, the status of the cultural and religious objects that are found there and the way each one of us looks at these different cultures to which the museum gives us access.”  

Stay tuned for future updates about acquisitions and programming as the Department of Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora continues to expand. 

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