Friday 12 August 2022

At Zeitz Museum, 'A Century of Black Figuration In Painting' celebrates African, Pan-diaspora art

'Homeage' (oil on canvas, 2022), by Sphephelo Mnguni.

ZEITZ MOCAA announces an exhibition titled When We See Us: A Century of Black Figuration In Painting, to opens in November 2022. The exhibition will be the precursor to the museum's Gala fundraising weekend in collaboration with luxury fashion brand, Gucci.

 The exhibition is an exploration of self-representation that celebrates Black subjectivity and Black consciousness from pan-African and pan-diasporic perspectives are the themes that will be presented in Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa’s (Zeitz MOCAA) upcoming survey exhibition titled When We See Us: A Century of Black Figuration in Painting. The exhibition is set to open in November as the precursor to the museum’s Gala fundraising weekend, presented in collaboration with longstanding institutional partner Gucci. 

With a primary focus on painting, specifically works produced from the 1920s to the present, When We See Us celebrates how artists from Africa and its diaspora have imagined, positioned, memorialised and asserted African and African-descent experiences. The title of the exhibition is derived from When They See Us, a 2019 American drama mini-series, directed by Ava DuVernay, that depicts various forms of violence against Black bodies as still witnessed globally today.

“Over the last decade, figurative painting by Black artists has risen to a new prominence in contemporary art,” says Koyo Kouoh, Executive Director and Chief Curator at Zeitz MOCAA. “There is no better time for an exhibition of this nature, one that connects these practices and reveals the deeper historic contexts and networks of complex and underrepresented artistic genealogies that stem from African and Black modernities; an exhibition that demonstrates how multiple generations of such artists have revelled and critically engaged in projecting various notions of Blackness and Africanicity.”

The topical themes prevalent in this exhibition are no coincidence, with Kouoh and her team exploring subject matter that not only speaks to their curatorial interests but also aligns with the larger vision and mission of Zeitz MOCAA. In Kouoh’s own words, this vision includes highlighting the myriad forms and aesthetics produced by artists from Africa and its diaspora, which, in turn, reveal the knowledge systems that analyse and project the human experience from trans-geographic territories of Africanity.

 In When We See Us, this is amplified by an art historical continuum of self-representation while, at the same time, highlighting important contributions towards a previously understated canon. Most importantly, the exhibition will highlight the artistic lineages, art schools and movements from the Nsukka School in Nigeria, Ecole de Dakar in Senegal, the Kumasi School in Ghana and the British Black Arts Movement to the Department of Fine Arts at Makerere University in Uganda and the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) in South Africa, to name a few. The exhibition will feature works by artists such as Njideka Akunyili Crosby (Nigeria/ USA), Zandile Tshabalala (South Africa), Jacob Lawrence (USA), Chéri Samba (DRC), Cassi Namoda (Mozambique), Joy Labinjo (Nigeria/ USA) and Archibald Motley (USA), amongst many others. The exhibition brings together over 200 works from more than 70 locations worldwide. 

In the lead-up to the exhibition, Zeitz MOCAA collaborated with the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to present the When We See Us Webinar Series. Since 29 March, the series has gathered thought leaders from Africa and the African diaspora to critically discuss issues around Black subjectivity and Black consciousness through the lens of contemporary art. The series will continue to run online until December 2022. The exhibition will furthermore be accompanied by a poetic catalogue published by Thames & Hudson. The publication will include work plates of the more than 200 works that will be on display as well as four specially commissioned texts by acclaimed writers Ken Bugul (Senegal), Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia), Robin Coste Lewis (United States) and Bill Kouelany (Republic of Congo).

When We See Us will open to the public on Sunday, 20 November 2022. The Zeitz MOCAA Gala Dinner + Party, supported by Gucci and themed Art+Opulence, takes place on Saturday, 19 November 2022. For more information on the Gala and to purchase tickets, visit

Zeitz MOCAA’s curatorial and exhibition programming is proudly supported by Gucci. All proceeds from the annual fundraising event will support professional advancement and education at Zeitz MOCAA.

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