The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art
has extended several art displays and a treasure hunt relating to the inauguration of President Barack Obama and to the theme of leadership. Activities will continue through February in conjunction with Black History Month.
The museum is presenting works of art relating to Obama’s African heritage and on the topic of leadership. On view in the entrance pavilion is the 2009 painting “Finally” by Togolese artist Papisco Kudzi (b. 1972). A resident of the Washington area, Kudzi followed Obama’s campaign closely and, for this mixed-media painting, translated the candidate’s “Yes We Can” message into French. A factory-printed textile known in East Africa as “kanga” is also displayed. It depicts Obama’s image and features Swahili words commemorating him.
At the base of the museum’s grand staircase, on the first level, are two special cases of artwork. One includes four objects from Kenya, the homeland of Obama’s father. A second case includes gold objects, which were used for centuries in the West African regions of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to identify leaders and other prestigious individuals and to convey power and splendor. In an adjacent gallery, African textiles and accompanying photographs from the museum’s Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives exhibit the ways Africans use cloth to recognize leadership and make political statements. On view are textiles depicting former leaders of Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania as well as a cloth portraying U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Images of Kennedy were popular in Africa both during his presidency and as commemorative cloths.
A free self-guided treasure-hunt activity, available at the museum’s information desk, leads visitors to objects in the museum’s permanent collection that relate to the theme of leadership.