ART VIRTUAL | I Am . . . Contemporary Women Artists of Africa, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

Susanne Wenger (Olorisha Adunni)
1915–2009, Graz, Austria
Worked in Oshogbo, Nigeria
Screen print on paper
Gift of the Collection of William and Mattye Reed, 2011-11-2
Visual piety. Susanne Wenger moved to Nigeria as an adult. She fully embraced Yoruba faith and practice, becoming fluent in the language and achieving the status of olorisha (priestess). Wenger used the sale of prints to fund the creation of monumental shrines in the sacred groves of Oshogbo. She realized that the “spirit does not reveal itself in the representation of any shape but the transformation of shapes.” The jagged, animated composition of her male and female figures in this print are meant to be “dynamic, as are human and godly inter-relationships and mystical forces.”
Zanele Muholi
b.1972, Umlazi, South Africa
Works in Johannesburg, South Africa
Pam Dlungwana, Vredhoek, Cape Town
ed. 2/8
Silver gelatin print
Gift of Diane and Charles Frankel, 2018-17-1
Being seen. Since 2006, visual activist Zanele Muholi has been photographing black lesbians, particularly in South Africa. As the artist has so powerfully stated, “I thought to myself that if you have remarkable women in America and around the globe, you equally have remarkable lesbian women in South Africa . . . I’m basically saying that we deserve recognition, respect, validation, and to have publications that mark and trace our existence.” Pam Dlungwana is one of the daring women Muholi has added to a global visual record as part of this project.
Billie Zangewa
b. 1973, Blantyre, Malawi
Works in Johannesburg, South Africa
Constant Gardener
Dupion silk, synthetic thread
Museum purchase, 2017-11-1
A female gaze. Billie Zangewa stitches scenes from her life to portray a woman who, as she says, “does not look for approval outside of herself.” Constant Gardener refers to the time after the artist’s son was born and she would sometimes rise at night to plant the fresh produce that would later nourish her child. For Zangewa, sewing is a matter of identity and she prefers to work with the luminous, reflective properties of dupion silk.

From the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

Nearly fifty years after the release of the feminist anthem “I Am Woman,” women still find their numbers underrepresented in politics, business, and museum collections. While this exhibition draws its name from the 1970s song, it highlights a more contemporary feminism that is not based on any single narrative of womanhood, but explores the vital contributions of women to numerous issues including the environment, identity, politics, race, sexuality, social activism, faith, and more. Crossing both generational and media divides, I Am . . . features the best of modern and contemporary artistic practice and offers an inclusive vision of women making art, in relation to the compelling issues that defined these artists’ times.

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Images Courtesy: Smithsonian of Museum of African Art

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