Peter Clarke’s “That Evening Sun Goes Down” (Fisk University Galleries, Nashville, gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1991.313 © 2022 Peter Edward Clarke / Dalro, Johannesburg / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York courtesy of American Federation of Arts)

See 3 Museum Exhibits that Explore Black History

Check out this trio of interesting and educational exhibitions that offer insight into the African American experience and African art in America.

African Modernism in America 
Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati

Nigerian sculptor and painter Ben Enwonwu gained worldwide recognition during the 20th century and is among the most influential African artists of the time. In 1955, painter Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian received an Ethiopian government scholarship to study in Europe, where he created art for more than a decade before returning to his home country in 1966.

Works by both pioneering artists are featured in “African Modernism in America,” which opens at Cincinnati’s Taft Museum of Art on Feb. 10 and runs through May 19. The exhibition features over 60 pieces created by African artists between 1947 and 1967. It offers a window into how the Harmon Foundation and New York’s Museum of Modern Art as well as Fisk University in Tennessee and other historically Black colleges and universities exhibited the work of African artists of the era.

“It’s about the impact of cultural diplomacy on African and African American artists in the years following World War II against the backdrop of the interlocking histories of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, decolonization movements across Africa and the global Cold War,” explains Perrin Lathrop, who co-curated the exhibition. It is the first major traveling exhibition to examine the connections between African artists and American patrons, artists and cultural organization of the time.

Visitors to the exhibition will first encounter an interpretation of a show of African art that was staged in the United States in 1961 and features the same works. From there, the exhibition delves into the wide range of artistic mediums and approaches. This variety is reflected in pieces such as Enwonwu’s “Head of Samson Imade,” a portrait bust that takes inspiration from early West African sculpture, and South African artist Peter Clarke’s “That Evening Sun Goes Down,” which uses abstract shapes and bold colors to depict a setting sun.

“Hopefully it will challenge our guests’ knowledge and understanding of African art that was made during the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s” says Ann Glasscock, installing curator for the exhibition at the Taft Museum of Art. “We want them to get a broader idea of what was produced during that time period and let them know about some really amazing artists.” 316 Pike St., Cincinnati 45202, 513/241-0343,

A man and woman view an exhibit within “African Americans Fighting for a Double Victory” at the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce (photo by Matthew Allen)
African Americans Fighting for a Double Victory
National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center, Wilberforce

War posters and solider uniforms from World War II line the walls at the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce. Along with antique furniture, period artwork and other artifacts, they help tell the story of how African Americans serving in the military during this pivotal period in history were also waging another battle.

“African Americans Fighting for a Double Victory,” which will be on display through 2025, examines how the service of Black military members during World War II served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement in the decades that followed. The exhibition is organized chronologically and begins with the American Revolution. As visitors walk through the exhibition, they learn about Black military members of all American eras and gain insight into what life on the homefront was like during World War II for African American families who bought war bonds, worked in defense plants and grew victory gardens but also faced racism and discrimination while doing so.

The exhibition includes works created by African American artist Charles Alston, whom the United States Office of War Information commissioned to create illustrations that boosted African American support for the war effort. It also highlights activists who sought to end discrimination within the military and war-time production employment, part of what they called a campaign to achieve a “Double Victory” over both enemies abroad and discrimination at home. The exhibition shares the stories of African Americans who served in the military or on the homefront who later helped shape Black civil rights.

“We want [visitors] to walk away with that deeper understanding — deeper appreciation — for what those soldiers went through because it wasn’t what other soldiers went through,” says Charles A. Wash Jr., director of the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center, “They were fighting two different wars simultaneously, which you rarely see in U.S. history.” 1350 Brush Row Rd., Wilberforce 45384, 937/376-4944,

Willie Cole’s “American Domestic” (collection of Wes and Missy Cochra, courtesy of Akron Art Museum)
RETOLD: African American Art and Folklore 
Akron Art Museum, Akron

Artist Willie Cole alters perceptions in his work that often makes use of household objects to reflect African art and culture and brings viewers face to face with the echoes of our nation’s history of slavery. He has created images of African fauna out of kitchen chairs and a depiction of a slave ship out of iron marks.

His 2016 piece, “American Domestic,” works in the same way, reinventing artist Grant Wood’s iconic “American Gothic” — a 1930 painting depicting a man and his daughter standing in front of their farmhouse — by giving its subjects African masks and putting an ironing board between the two figures in the center of the composition.

The painting is one of more than 70 works featured in “RETOLD: African American Art and Folklore,” which is on display at the Akron Art Museum through March 24. The exhibition features a selection of art from the collection of Wesley and Missy Cochran of LaGrange, Georgia, and focuses on the four themes of Remembering, Religion, Racialization and Resistance.

“I truly believe that once — as cultures — we learn [from] each other and get to know each other and get to be able to understand and empathize with each other, then that will begin to break down some of those walls of discrimination and separation that we still have,” says Tameka Ellington, guest curator of the exhibition. “The main goal is for people to learn about African American culture and to humanize African American culture.”

Jacob Lawrence’s 1989 frenetic and powerful screen print on paper, “Revolt on the Amistad,” and Beverly Buchanan’s undated oil pastel on paper, “Pink Windows Are Lucky,” which seems to draw from a childhood memory, show the range of the pieces featured. 

As museum visitors enter the exhibition, they encounter an atmosphere meant to evoke Africa with textured, burnt orange-colored walls and decorative elements that resemble raffia — a plant-based material that is widely used on the continent.

“Visitors who’ve seen the space before I think will be really struck by its transformation,” says Jeffrey Katzin, senior curator at the Akron Art Museum. “All of this was designed with our team and Tameka’s input to mirror the works of art and also to give a sense of a connection to Africa.” 1 S. High St., Akron 44308, 330/376-9186,