The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C, United States
08 Apr 2015 - 02 Aug 2015

The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists

Aïda Muluneh, 'The 99 Series' (detail) , 2013 © Aïda Muluneh Courtesy: MMK

Previously shown at Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main and the Savannah College of Art and Design the exhibition The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists will be on view at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art from April to August 2015.

Curated by the internationally acclaimed writer and art critic Simon Njami, with assistance at the National Museum of African Art from curator Karen Milbourne, this dramatic multi-media exhibition reveals the ongoing global relevance of Dante Alighieri’s 14th century epic as part of a shared intellectual heritage. Including original commissions and renowned works of art by approximately 40 of the most dynamic contemporary artists from 19 African nations and the diaspora, this visually stunning exhibition will be the first to take advantage of the museum’s pavilion and stairwells, as well as galleries on the first and third floors.

For centuries, Dante’s literary work and metaphorical language has been a source of inspiration for visual artists, inspiring European masterpieces by Sandro Botticelli, Eugène Delacroix, William Blake and Salvador Dalí, among many others. Through a variety of media, this exhibition demonstrates how concepts visited in Dante’s poem transcend Western traditions and resonate with diverse contemporary cultures, belief systems and political issues. Overall, the exhibition provides a probing examination of life, death and the continued power of art to express the unspoken and intangible.

Celebrated artists like Kader Attia, Wangechi Mutu, and Yinka Shonibare explore the themes of paradise, purgatory, and hell with video, photography, printmaking, painting, sculpture, fiber arts, and mixed media installation.



Jane Alexander (*1959 Johannesburg, South Africa), Fernando Alvim (*1963 Luanda, Angola), Ghada Amer (*1963 Kairo, Egypt), Joël Andrianomearisoa (*1977 Antananarivo, Madagascar), Kader Attia (*1970 Dugny/Seine-Saint-Denis, France), Sammy Baloji (*1978 Lubumbashi, Congo), Berry Bickle (*1959 Bulawayo, Zimbabwe), Bili Bidjocka (*1962 Douala, Cameroon), Wim Botha (*1974 Pretoria, South Africa), Zoulikha Bouabdellah (*1977 Moskau, Russia), Mohamed Bourouissa (*1978 Blida, Algeria), Nabil Boutros (*1954 Kairo, Egypt), Edson Chagas (*1977 Luanda, Angola),Loulou Cherinet (*1970 Gothenburg, Schweden), Lawrence Chikwa (Lusaka, Zambia), Kudzanai Chiurai (*1981 Harare, Zimbabwe), Dimitri Fagbohoun (*1972 Cotonou, Benin), Franck Abd-Bakar Fanny (*1971 Elfenbeinküste), Jellel Gasteli (*1958 Tunis, Tunisia), Pélagie Gbaguidi (*1965 Dakar, Senegal), Kendell Geers (*1968 Johannesburg, South Africa), Frances Goodman (*1975 Johannesburg, South Africa), Nicholas Hlobo (*1975 Kapstadt, South Africa), Mouna Karray (*1970 Sfax, Tunisia), Amal Kenawy (*1974 Kairo, Egypt), Majida Khattari (*1966 Erfoud, Morocco), Kiluanji Kia Henda(*1979 Luanda, Angola), Jems Koko Bi (*1966 Sifra, Ivory Coast), Abdoulaye Konaté (*1953 Diré, Mali), Nicène Kossentini (*1976 Sfax, Tunisia), Ndary Lo (*1961 Tivaouane, Senegal), Ato Malinda (*1981 Nairobi, Kenya), Pascale Marthine Tayou (*1967 Yaoundé, Cameroon), Julie Mehretu (*1970 Addis Abeba, Ethiopia), Myriam Mihindou (*1964 Libreville, Gabon), Nandipha Mntambo (*1982 Swasiland), Aïda Muluneh (*1974 Addis Abeba, Ethiopia), Hassan Musa (*1951 El-Nuhud, Sudan), Wangechi Mutu (*1972 Nairobi, Kenya), Mwangi Hutter (*1975 Nairobi, Kenya and *1975 Ludwigshafen, Germany), Youssef Nabil (*1972 Kairo, Egypt), Lamia Naji (*1966 Casablanca, Marocco), Moataz Nasr (*1961 Kairo, Egypt), Cheikh Niass (*1966 Dakar, Senegal), Maurice Pefura (*1967 Paris, France),  Zineb Sedira (*1963 Paris, France), Yinka Shonibare MBE (*1962 London, England), Guy Tillim (*1962 Johannesburg, South Africa), Andrew Tshabangu (*1966 Johannesburg, South Africa), Minnette Vári (*1968 Pretoria, South Africa), Dominique Zinkpè (*1969 Cotonou, Benin)



Meet the Artist Series: Julie Mehretu

On Friday, April 24 (6:30 p.m. at the Hirshhorn’s Ring Auditorium), Ethiopian-born American artist Julie Mehretu and Milbourne discuss the artist’s practice. Exploring time and place, Mehretu’s work layers gestural marks and architectural, geographical, and historical symbols to create large-scale, semi-abstract canvases. Presented as part of the Hirshhorn’s ongoing Meet the Artist series, the evening’s conversation is presented in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum.




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