Currently, there are two exhibitions at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum (CFAM) that explore black representation and imagination throughout history. The “AfroFantastic: Black Imagination and Agency in the American Experience” exhibit, which lasts until April 2, 2017, will be followed by “The Black Figure in the European Imaginary” exhibit, which runs until May 14, 2017. I stopped by CFAM to take a look at these exhibits that explore aspects of art often left underrepresented in the past.
Rollins students curated the AfroFantastic exhibit with Dr. Julian Chambliss, a History professor here at Rollins. The pieces stretch over a time span from the 19th century to modern day, covering the sociopolitical forces fueling the conceptualization of black culture in America. The time span covered in this exhibit helps the viewer witness the social transformation for black Americans over the past two centuries, exploring topics from slavery to music and futurism.
AfroFantastic offers a great display of art that confronts the idea of the “American experience” throughout history, reminding the viewer of thealternate and macabre timeline experienced by black Americans. From the surreal to the historical, AfroFantastic offers great insight into the transformation of the black imagination over time.
“The Black Figure in the European Imaginary” exhibit is curated by Adrienne L. Childs, Ph.D. and Susan H. Libby, Ph.D. This exhibit juxtaposed to the AfroFantastic exhibit allows the viewer to travel between mindsets and history to compare the black American imagination to the European imagination of black people from the 1700s into the 1900s. Given the opposing mindset, this exhibit more broadly covers the topics of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. There was a European fascination with African culture during the exploration of Africa and the Middle East. The exoticism of dark-skinned people and faraway lands is a clear theme throughout the different works, while the marginalized and racist caricatures of African American people during this same time period also line the walls of CFAM.
While some of these paintings may have been well intentioned, the representation of black persons through these artworks often objectifies and fetishizes minority cultures. “The Black Figure in the European Imaginary” is examining the often biased and one-sided relationship between European artists and the black figure over the course of centuries.
Both of these exhibits offer great insight into historical as well as contemporary issues. There is more information on both exhibits on the CFAM website, and the museum offers free admission throughout the week. Whether you have time between classes or just want to admire a perspective other than your own, stop by CFAM to visit both these exhibitions before they’re gone.