Kongo across the Waters, curated by School of Art + Art History Professor Dr. Robin Poynor, Harn Museum of Art Curator of African Art Dr. Susan Cooksey and Royal Museum for Central Africa Curator of African Collections Hein Vanhee, made its way to the Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta in May where it will reside through September 21, 2014 before heading to the Princeton University Art Museum in Princeton, New Jersey, and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Kongo across the Waters is the first exhibition at an American museum to explore fully the legacy of the Kongo kingdom.
More than 300 invited guests, including President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, attended the opening reception. In addition to Poynor and Forbes, the UF contingent included Rebecca Nagy, director of the Harn Museum, and Dr. Susan Cooksey, curator for African Art at the Harn. Their fellow curator Hein Van Hee from the Royal Museum for Central Africa was also present.
Speakers included His Excellency Johan Verbeke, ambassador of Belgium to the U.S; Alexander Cummings Jr., executive vice president and chief administrative officer of the Coca-Cola Company who is a native of Liberia; and Guido Gryseels, director general of the Royal Museum for Central Africa. The Honorable Kwanza Hall also spoke, announcing on behalf of the Atlanta City Council a proclamation recognizing Africa Atlanta 2014 “for bringing a new dimension to the city’s profile and engagement as an international city.” Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson announced Beatrice Mtetwa as a recipient of the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage. The first woman to receive the prize, Mtetwa is a human rights attorney from Zimbabwe. Geneviève Verbeek, consul general for the Bewlgian consulate in Atlanta, and for Cuba were present, along with a large delegation from the Royal Museum for Central Africa.
“When Amanda Carlson and I set out exploring the impact of Africa on Florida and began the process of working on a book on that topic, I had no idea this exhibition would result or that it would travel to Atlanta, Princeton and New Orleans,” said Poynor. “But it happened at just the right time. Discussions with Rebecca Nagy and Susan Cooksey at the Harn took place just after a major Belgian collector had invited me to work on a Kongo exhibition with him. Then the director of the Royal Museum visited UF, again at just the right time, and we shared our ideas with him. Thus was set in motion this specific take on African and American interactions in time to celebrate the 500 years of African presence in Florida.”
The exhibition, which explores the rise of the Kongo kingdom in western central Africa, its first contact with Europeans and the Kongo’s influence on African American art and culture in the United States, has been heralded with excellent reviews. To learn more about Kongo across the Waters, click here.