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After the End of the World: Pictures from Panafrica

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What meanings has Earth held for people of African descent, and what can an environmental consciousness grounded in Pan-Africanist perspectives teach all of humanity today?

Conceived to accompany the major survey exhibition Project a Black Planet: The Art and Culture of Panafrica (on view at the Art Institute December 15, 2024–March 30, 2025), this exhibition, drawn from the museum’s collection, addresses the planet itself. Works by 15 artists in film, photography, and book arts draw attention to three vital and intertwined interactions with the land: as a path to freedom, as a means of spiritual and bodily sustenance, and as a source of enlightenment.

Works by artists such as Carrie Mae Weems and Dawoud Bey retrace nocturnal paths to freedom. For example, Weems’s North Star stems from the experience of her grandfather, labor organizer Frank Weems, who made a path from rural Arkansas to Chicago in 1936 by traveling at night and following Polaris, the North Star. Like many others who found their way to freedom, Weems saved his life but lost his family and never could return to his birthplace.

Foregrounding the interrelation of food and spiritual wisdom are works by Radcliffe Bailey and Luis Medina as well as the room-filling photo installation Bori (Feed the Head) by Candomblé priest and visual artist Ayrson Heráclito. Bori memorializes a ritual performance in which Heráclito encircled the heads of one dozen initiated participants with mounded ingredients to nourish individual Yoruba deities.

Nana Scaled

Cabeça de Nanã, from the series “Bori” (Feed the Head), 2009, printed 2023


Ayrson Heráclito

Purchased with funds provided by Suzette Bross Bulley

The land serving as a source of enlightenment can be seen in the work of the duo Otolith Group. As part of their research on the Bengali university established in 1921 by artist and writer Rabindranath Tagore, the Otolith Group made a series of digital photomontages called Santiniketan Studies, named after the town where this university and its precedent school (founded in 1901) continue to function to this day. Tagore’s ideas for the university included classes held outdoors, the close study of nature, and individual and group analysis of classical Indian texts alongside modern international writings aimed at liberating mind and body.

The title for the exhibition is derived from the incantatory opening to a classic film by musician and philosopher Sun Ra, Space Is the Place (1974). As the spaceship carrying Ra advances toward his new celestial realm, a bodiless chorus intones its warning and welcome: “It’s after the end of the world. Don’t you know it yet?” Ra then emerges, strolling in Egyptian costume through an unplaceable tropical garden—a marriage of deep past and fantastic future that asks all viewers to consider their relationship to history and the natural world. 

Works by the following artists are included in the presentation: 

Laura Aguilar
Radcliffe Bailey
Dawoud Bey
Carolina Caycedo
David Hartt
Ayrson Heráclito
Luis Medina
groana melendez
Santu Mofokeng
Eustáquio Neves
Abraham Oghobase
Otolith Group
Sun Ra
Jo Ractliffe
Carrie Mae Weems

After the End of the World: Pictures from Panafrica is curated by Matthew Witkovsky, Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator, Photography and Media, and vice president for strategic art initiatives. 

Sponsors

Major funding for After the End of the World: Pictures from Panafrica is provided by the Black Dog Fund.

Additional support is contributed by Richard Hay, Jr.

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