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Africa Restored Cheryl As Cleopatra Africa Restored Cheryl As Cleopatra

Project a Black Planet: The Art and Culture of Panafrica

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Pan-Africanism, first named and theorized around 1900, is commonly regarded as an umbrella term for political movements that have advanced the call for both individual self-determination and global solidarity among peoples of African descent. It has yet to be fully examined as a worldview that takes its force from art and culture.

As the first major exhibition to survey Pan-Africanism’s cultural manifestations, Project a Black Planet: The Art and Culture of Panafrica gathers together some 350 objects, spanning the 1920s to the present, made by artists on four of the world’s seven continents: Africa, North and South America, and Europe. Panafrica, the promised land named in the exhibition title, is presented as a conceptual place where arguments about decolonization, solidarity, and freedom are advanced and negotiated with the aim of an emancipatory future. Rather than a stable and defined territory, the exhibition maps Panafrica as a shifting and boundless constellation that transforms and reassembles standard representation of the planet.  

In fact, many artists featured in the exhibition have creatively redrawn the map of Africa or the world: Yto Barrada (Paris, born 1971, lives in Tangier), Kerry James Marshall (Birmingham, born 1955, lives in Chicago), and Abdoulaye Ndoye (Dakar, born 1951, lives in Dakar. Others, including David Hammons (Springfield, IL, born 1943, lives in New York), Edith de Kyndt (Ypres, born 1960, lives in Berlin and Brussels), Chris Ofili (Manchester, born 1968, lives in Port of Spain and London), and Kawira Mwirichia (Nairobi, 1984–2020), have made flags which correspond to no official nation but rather imagine a transnational solidarity.  

Africa Restored Cheryl As Cleopatra

Africa Restored (Cheryl as Cleopatra), 2003

Kerry James Marshall

The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Susan and Lewis Manilow

Framing the individual artworks in the exhibition are the ideas of three influential 20th-century cultural and political movements—Garveyism, Négritude, and Quilombismo—that offer competing visions of a Black Planet, all of them premised on a great contrast with the world we all inhabit today. Further exhibition spaces in Project a Black Planet spotlight debates around Blackness, inner life, political and psychological agitation, and the role of ancestors and spirituality.

The center of the exhibition, meanwhile, turns around an extensive display of books, magazines, record albums, and ephemera which have helped circulate ideas of resistance and self-invention worldwide since the early 20th century. Together this expansive presentation—artworks from across the globe in nearly every media—prompts questions and invites visitors to grapple with and participate in Pan-Africanism’s calls for equality and social transformation.

Project a Black Planet: The Art and Culture of Panafrica is curated by Antawan I. Byrd, associate curator of Photography and Media, Art Institute of Chicago, and assistant professor of Art History, Northwestern University; Elvira Dyangani Ose, director, Museu d’art contemporani de Barcelona; Adom Getachew, Professor of Political Science and Race, Diaspora and Indigeneity, University of Chicago; and Matthew S. Witkovsky, vice president for strategic art initiatives and Sandor Chair of Photography and Media, Art Institute of Chicago.


Lead foundation support for Project a Black Planet: The Art and Culture of Panafrica is generously contributed by the Harris Family Foundation in memory of Bette and Neison Harris.

Major support is provided by The Chauncey and Marion Deering McCormick Family Foundation, Hilary and Gidon Cohen, the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation (EHTF), the Artworkers Retirement Society, the Council for Canadian American Relations, The Opatrny Family Foundation, the Lewis and Susan Manilow Fund, and Gary Metzner and Scott Johnson.

This exhibition is made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

Members of the Luminary Trust provide annual leadership support for the museum’s operations, including exhibition development, conservation and collection care, and educational programming. The Luminary Trust includes an anonymous donor, Karen Gray-Krehbiel and John Krehbiel, Jr., Kenneth C. Griffin, the Harris Family Foundation in memory of Bette and Neison Harris, Josef and Margot Lakonishok, Ann and Samuel M. Mencoff, Sylvia Neil and Dan Fischel, Cari and Michael J. Sacks, and the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation.

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