Afro-Atlantic Histories Field Trip Assignment National Gallery of Art

“Afro-Atlantic Histories” Field Trip Assignment National Gallery of Art

Student’s Name

Institution of Affiliation


1. What is your excitement level (on a scale of 1-10 with ten being highest) to see this exhibition? What do you expect it to be like?

I was very excited to see the exhibition. I expected to see the African history in diaspora including the depictions of slavery, fashion and correlation of African people in Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean. I would say that I was 10/10 on excitement level.

2. What is meant by the title of the exhibition “Afro-Atlantic Histories”? What is the scope of the exhibition, and what are its stated intentions?

The exhibition Afro-Atlantic Histories examines the histories and effects of the transatlantic slave trade. It is driven by a need and a necessity to identify parallels, frictions, and dialogues between Afro-Atlantic visual cultures, including their experiences, creations, worshiping, and thinking. More than 130 works from Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean, dating from the 17th to the 21st centuries, are included in Afro-Atlantic Histories. Aaron Douglas, Theaster Gates, and Kerry James Marshall are among the top African-American artists, as are Eustáquio Neves of Brazil, Canute Caliste of Grenada, and Senèque Obin of Haiti.

3. How do you understand the “African diaspora” as expressed in the exhibition? 

Diaspora populations can be described as members of an ethnic or religious group, that originated from the same place but dispersed to different locations. In this case, the African diaspora as expressed from the exhibition has been used to refer to members of the African descent – predominantly black people, who originated from Africa but dispersed to different locations across the globe which in this case include Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean. Based on this, the exhibitions specifically entail histories of African communities dispersed into different parts of the world, and which dates back to the transatlantic slave trade.

4. What are the range of identities that you see displayed? How does this impact your understanding of what it means to be a “person of color”? Are the common elements to the black experience that you can identify? Are there surprising identities that you would not have expected? If so, what are they, and how do they change your perspective?

There are various identities from the artwork that was displayed including gender, social class, race and ethnicity, religion and age. The various identities of Africans is a clear indication that people of color are survivors. For example, race and social class has been depicted in slavery portraits which indicates that people of color were treated as slaves because they were considered low persons in the society. Besides, the gender identity has been portrayed with men and women as having different roles and this has been the traditional African set up since ancient times. Women dress code is different from that of men and their roles are also different, and this identifies with people of color. Despite expecting identities of racism and ethnicity in regard to slavery, I didn’t expect to find artworks regarding freedom displayed especially those regarding sexual identity. For example, Samuel Fosso, ‘Self portrait (as Liberated American Woman of the 70s) depicts how people of color have changed their believes over the years, and now identify with the LGBTQ community. Some of these identities tend to complicate the understanding of the people of color as they have been newly adopted, changing the whole dynamics of understanding people of color in regard to sexuality and sexual identity.

5. This is, of course, an ART exhibition. Choose three works of art and discuss how they (as works of art) effectively communicate history and identity in an impactful way through images.

a. Aaron Douglas’s into Bondage (1936)

The artwork into the bondage depicts an effective communication of the identity and history of the black people. The artwork depicts the horrors of slavery and the immense struggles that Africans had to undergo for emancipation. It portrays how Africans were taken as slaves and taken to America in chains. However, the artwork also communicates glimpses of hope as a woman can be seen raising her hands towards the sky and a man gazing towards the North Star in a powerful stance. Slaves escaped to the North to find freedom and thus, the artwork comprises of various elements that communicates horror of slavery and emancipation as a symbol of hope.

b. Dalton Paula’s Zeferina (2018)

Zeferina has a strong presence in regard to communication messages about slavery. To begin with, the portrait is that of a black woman with a sharp eye focus; and who seems to be filled with rage. The artwork portrays an influential leader of a slave rebellion who was sentenced before receiving recognition for her efforts. Since Zeferina’s face was not recorded, the artist had to fully imagine her appearance and purposefully left her earrings unfinished to signify her undefined legacy. This artwork effectively communicates history and identity of black people in an impactful way in that many people including Harriet Tubman among others dedicated their lives to help slaves. They wanted their people to be freed from slavery. Zeferina artwork communicates a message of bravery, and depicts women of color as brave and fearless.

c. Zanele Muholi’s Ntozahke II (2016)

Ntozahke II is a great piece of artwork in the National Gallery of Art. It is a striking self-portrait in which the artist mimicked the Statute of Liberty in a draped cloth garment and hair doughnuts that form a crown, with a gaze off into the distance. This artwork effectively communicates history and identity of black people in regard to liberation of black people. The Statute of liberty is a symbol of the American freedom, and the mimicked artwork symbolizes African American freedom.

6. What was your favorite work of art in the exhibition? Why?

Based on the three artworks described above, I find Aaron Douglas’s into Bondage (1936) to be my favorite, and this can be attributed to the message it communicates.

The artwork depicts the horrors of slavery, in regard to how slaves were obtained, and transported to the Americas. While at one point it depicts hopelessness due to bondage, it symbolizes hope on the other hand. The artwork also communicates glimpses of hope as a woman can be seen raising her hands towards the sky and a man gazing towards the North Star in a powerful stance. This is a symbol of hope, and this has been the identity of Africans, they believe in hope for a better future.

7. What was your least favorite work of art in the exhibition? Again, why?

There are lots of artworks that were fascinating, but very few can be considered least favorite as they all communicated black history. One of the artworks that I can consider to be least favorite include Hank Willis Thomas’s A Place to Call Home (2020). The artwork depicts a connected North America and Africa in lieu of South America. It speaks to how African Americans navigate their sense of belonging within both places and encourages reflection from all viewers. This artwork is less convincing as it communicates little about the history of Africans in regard to the experiences of slavery, but merely depicts continents. Based on this, I consider this artwork to be least favorite as its message is not clearly depicted.

8. Which work of art didn’t interest you at first, but became much more interesting after you read about it? Explain.

There are various artworks that seemed off at first, making it easy to ignore them. However, after careful reading, they became more interesting, almost becoming favorite. One such artwork includes Daniel Lind-Ramos’s Figura de Poder (2016–2020). The artwork is made of a collection of found commonplace materials from Lind-Ramos’s afro-Puerto Rican community in Loiza. The everyday objects in this artwork evokes carnival traditions, music, sports, and other pieces of community life as a site of cultural resistance through the distinctly dynamic sculpture. This artwork combines different elements of the black culture during slavery including tools that were used in most activities of a slave’s life. For example, it mirrors, concrete blocks, cement bag, sledgehammer, construction stones bag, paint bucket, wood panels, palm tree trunk, burlap, leather, ropes, sequin, awning, plastic ropes, fabric, trumpet, pins, duct tape, maracas, sneaker, tambourine, working gloves, boxing gloves, and acrylic. These tools can be used to describe the hard work that black people were subjected to during slavery.

9. Now that you have viewed the exhibition, how would you rate the experience on a scale of 1-10? Reflect on what you have learned, and what you would have missed in terms of your education if you had not viewed the exhibition. Lastly, what are the two biggest take-aways for you after this experience?

After completing the tour on the exhibition Afro-Atlantic Histories, I would say that I have accomplished what I purported to see. However, I would rate the experience as 9/10 since there were some artworks that were not compelling and did not meet my expectations in regard to the history of the black people as the title of the exhibition purports. There are various things that I have learned regarding black history from the exhibition. One of the lessons is that despite the dispersion of black people to different countries across the globe, their culture has remained almost intact from fashion and other aspects of culture. Another lesson is that as times pass, black people have adopted different sexual orientations as they have been associated with the LGBTQ community, and this symbolizes a culture that is slowly fading away. Lastly, the horrors of slavery were immense with blacks being subjected to various tortures including being chained, however, this did not kill their hope of being free. As most of the artworks depicts, there is a lot of hope, with many people dedicating their lives to freeing fellow blacks from the jaws of slavery. This is a great lesson since it teaches Africans to always be their brother’s keeper.