“States of Becoming” Is Hosting at The Africa Center in New York, United States

States of Becoming © Gabriel C. Amadi-Emina, Fade Catcher, 2021

States of Becoming, a Fitsum Shebeshe-curated exhibition organised by Independent Curators International (ICI), will be on display at The Africa Center at Aliko Dangote Hall from October 14, 2022, through February 26, 2023.

Shebeshe has brought together 17 artists with “States of Becoming” who either immigrated to the United States over the previous thirty years or were born here as first-generation citizens after finding affinity among cultural practitioners from the African Diaspora who shared his experience. The artists featured in “States of Becoming” originated in thirteen U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, Washington, D.C., and New Haven. They relocated from twelve African and one Caribbean nation, including Kenya, Ghana, Liberia, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.

Each artist in the show, like Shebeshe, has had a different relationship with the American setting, which is reflected in their work. “States of Becoming” examines how these artists are constantly defining, redefining, and becoming themselves in both local and global contexts, providing a window into a variety of emotional and geographical states in a framework of ongoing social and cultural evolution. Work in various media, including painting, photography, sculpture, installation, and video, is on display in the show and expresses the various ways in which identity is reinvented and reimagined. For example, Amare Selfu shifts from figuration to abstraction to express transformation brought on by relocation, while Nontsikelelo Mutiti looks to hair braiding parlours of the African Diaspora. A sense of hybrid culture is created by these various experiences derived from actual and imagined genealogies of cultural, racial, national, and geographic affiliation.

Informing the conversation on identity construction in the African Diaspora, “States of Becoming” explores the shifting forces of relocation, resettling, and assimilation that shape the artistic practises of a group of 17 contemporary African artists who have lived and worked in the United States over the past three decades. Since The Africa Center changed its name from the Museum for African Art in 2013, “States of Becoming” will be the first significant contemporary art show there. It will also be the first presentation of the touring exhibition created by ICI (Independent Curators International).

After moving from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Baltimore, Maryland in 2016, curator Fitsum Shebeshe gained firsthand knowledge of the burden of cultural assimilation, which resulted in the idea for “States of Becoming.” Shebeshe’s approach to institutions and culture was formed by the numerous existential issues he faced when he was thrust into a new society. Shebeshe also became aware for the first time of the significant influence Ethiopia’s traditional and conservative culture had on his feeling of identity, as well as the fact that he was perceived as being a member of a minority due to the colour of his skin.

The artists in States of Becoming, despite having different artistic styles and life experiences, all work to reconstruct a hybrid culture built on actual and imagined ancestries of cultural, racial, national, and geographic connection. The exhibition is loosely organised into three main categories: those whose aesthetic forms have drastically changed as a result of migration; those who want to share their experiences and native culture with the communities where they now live; and those who create links between African diaspora artists and African American artists in their host nation. The exhibition offers a platform to analyse the interconnections and contribute to the developing conversation on relocation, resettling, assimilation, and identity building by contextualising these activities in the present.

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