The Ackland is focusing on this topic of anonymity and its prevalence in African art not only to diversify its collection, but also to emphasize a large gap in the field, said Carlee Forbes, an African Art History Ph.D. candidate at UNC.
“One of the things I think we’re trying to highlight with this exhibition is that when African art was collected historically, these things like artist’s names, even exactly where they lived, was not something that was important to record," Forbes said. "So, it’s a huge issue in the field in trying to reconcile this lack of information, and what we know versus what we can’t.”
With this expansion, the Ackland hopes to also emphasize the diversity within both traditional and contemporary African art, Wilkerson said.
“We decided to really emphasize Africa,” Nisbet said. “It derived from my sense initially that the collection had been underestimated, and that it was really good and that there were some great things, but it had been maybe a bit of a stepchild for a number of years.”
In many museums, European art tends to be the focus, Wilkerson said.
“As a professor in the School of Education for over 30 years, we talked about diversity all the time," Wilkerson said. "It’s just an extenuation to me that I want to see all types of art when I go into a museum, so it’s just natural that we should have representation.”
The Ackland encourages students to come and look at the collection not only for its educational aspect, but also for its aesthetic appeal, Nisbet said.
“This really presents a great opportunity to visitors to engage with the material on a deeper level,” Forbes said. “Also, they’re just so tactile. You want to touch them, you want to look at them, you want to see what’s on the mirror or on the book of the two standing figures. It’s kind of hard to pass them by, I think, without looking.”
Wilkerson said she emphasized the aesthetic aspect of the collection, as well as the importance of it when she obtained the pieces.
“First of all, they’re appealing to the eye," Wilkerson said. "I just think it starts with the visual. If you’re drawn in to look more closely, I think you’ll become curious about why this, and why that, and how was this used, and then who did this and where did this come from. I just see it as, like, you’re starting by not just walking by it, but you’re drawn in, and it gets deeper.”
The Ackland hopes to expose the UNC campus to the works of Africa and dispel common misconceptions surrounding the continent through these revolving collections, Nisbet said.
“I think many people still have that sense of Africa as this dark continent, which is completely misrepresenting the continent and its diversity and its possibilities,” Nisbet said.
With the success of this exhibit and ones prior, the Ackland plans to continue bringing in more African art, Nisbet said.
“I’d love to see the Ackland keep building on this momentum that they have for collecting African art and showing it in these different contexts," Forbes said. "That rotating wall really offers an opportunity for them to keep exploring different themes, to bring out different objects that maybe aren’t necessarily highlighted long term and to really start to show the diversity of the continent.”