When We See Us

A Century of Black Figuration in Painting

GEGENWART / 25.05.–27.10.2024 / Curators: Tandazani Dhlakama, Koyo Kouoh


In what ways have artists from the African continent and its far-flung diaspora processed the experience of the quotidian in their painting over the last 100 years? Koyo Kouoh, Director and Chief Curator of the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town, South Africa, and her team undertook extensive research to find out. The result is a comprehensive show that brings together works by 120 artists: a kaleidoscope of Black figurative painting over the last 100 years. Also scheduled to be on show at the Kunstmuseum Basel, Zeitz MOCAA has created a groundbreaking exhibition that demands to be seen.

The exhibition’s title is inspired by the 2019 Netflix miniseries When They See Us by African-American director Ava DuVernay, which focuses on how Black youth are seen as potential criminals and thus as a threat. Replacing “they” with “we” in the title indicates the crucial perspectival shift: The works on show bring into focus the artists’ lived realities as subject of their own art. Amounting to over 150 pieces, the artworks are grouped into six distinct thematic categories entitled “The Everyday,” “Joy & Revelry,” ”Repose,” “Sensuality,” “Spirituality,” and “Triumph and Emancipation.”

This multifaceted special exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart introduces viewers to figurative painting by Black artists from Africa and the African Diaspora dating from the 1920s through to the present. Sound stations and atmospheric staging provide complementary contextual elements as aids to interpretation. A multilayered series of public programmes designed in collaboration with external partners provides additional approaches to the exhibition.

The show features works by:
Michael Armitage (Kenya / UK)
Njideka Akunyili Crosby (Nigeria / USA)
Romare Bearden (USA)
Ben Enwonwu (Nigeria)
Joy Labinjo (UK)
Jacob Lawrence (USA)
Danielle McKinney (USA)
Sungi Mlengeya (Tanzania)
Mmapula Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi (South Africa)
Chéri Samba (Democratic Republic of the Congo / France)
Amy Sherald (USA)
Cyprien Tokoudagba (Benin)
Zandile Tshabalala (South Africa)
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (UK)
and many more.

Chapters and Artists

Triumph and Emancipation

At the heart of this chapter is pride in one's own history and in what has been achieved - despite the most adverse circumstances and centuries of oppression. On the first floor of the museum, visitors encounter world-famous icons such as in Chéri Chérin's painting Obama Revolution (2009) at eye level with nameless but strong figures such as in Ibrahim El-Salahi's Portrait of a Sudanese Gentleman (1951). They depict people who look after the cultural assets of their ancestors, committed politicians and people who represent success and social recognition.

Artists: Benny Andrews, Margaret Taylor Burroughs, Chéri Chérin, Kudzanai Chiurai, Aboubacar Diané, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Ben Enwonwu, Gherdai Hassell, Wifredo Lam, Akinola Lasekan, Mustafa Maluka, Eria Nsubuga ‘Sane’, Augustin Okoye, George Pemba, Chéri Samba, Mmapula Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi, Gerard Sekoto, Katlego Tlabela, Cyprien Tokoudagba

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Sensuality

In Sensuality, Black bodies are shown in an intimate and self-confident way that the Western canon of images has hardly ever allowed. Roméo Mivekannin's Le modèle noir, d'après Félix Vallotton (2019) makes direct reference to this canon, as does Sahara Long's Reclining Nude with Lemon (2021). The chapter shows the multifaceted spectra of sensuality, love and intimate affection. What all the works have in common is the self-determination of the protagonists.

Artists: Nina Chanel Abney, Olusegun Adejumo, Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Maxwell Alexandre, Tiffany Alfonseca, Dominic Chambers, Somaya Critchlow, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Elladj Lincy Deloumeaux, Aboubacar Diané, Ibrahima Kébé, Yoyo Lander, Sahara Longe, Danielle McKinney, Roméo Mivekannin, Moké, Geoffrey Mukasa, Chris Ofili, Kambui Olujimi, Tschabalala Self, Monsengo Shula, Mickalene Thomas, Bob Thompson, Kehinde Wiley

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Spirituality

According to the curators, everyday black life without spirituality is hardly conceivable. The chapter stands for the "triple heritage" described by the Kenyan-American writer Ali Mazrui (1933-2014) in his book The Africans: A Triple Heritage: 'Black Life' in its permeability to indigenous, Islamic and Christian traditions and rituals. The works presented here show lived spirituality, including Jacob Lawrence's Genesis Creation (1989) and Michael Armitage's The Dumb Oracle (2019).

Artists: Michael Armitage, Gerard Bhengu, Wilson Bigaud, Edouard DuvalCarrié, Aaron Douglas, Scherezade García, Jacob Lawrence, Cassi Namoda, Malangatana Ngwenya, Kambui Olujimi, Emma Pap', Naudline Pierre, Prosper Pierre-Louis, María Magdalena Campos Pons, Cinga Samson, Gerard Sekoto, Devan Shimoyama, Alex Shyngle, Sthembiso Sibisi, Olivier Souffrant, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, Nirit Takele

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The Everyday

Paintings such as Aaron Douglas' Boy with a Toy Plane (1938), William H. Johnson's The Reader (1939), Joy Labinjo's Gisting in the Kitchen (2018) or Johnny Arts' advertising poster for Ozor International Barber also Specialist in Hair Dying and Shampooing (1962) show the beauty of everyday life. The chapter presents public and private scenes with moments of joy or contemplation: in the family, in the community, at play, at school, carrying water or braiding hair.

Artists: Johnny Arts, Malang Badji, Romare Bearden, Aaron Douglas, Gervais Emmanuel Ducasse, Ben Enwonwu, Ablade Glover, Gavin Janties, William H. Johnson, Kangudia, Ibrahima Kébé, Joy Labinjo, Petson Lombe, Marvelous Mangena, Luis Meque, Moké, Meleko Mokgosi, Richard Mudariki, Theresa Mungure, Lavar Munroe, Chemu Ng'ok, Nicholous Njau, Boris Nzebo, Antoine Obin, Télémaque Obin, Bruce Onobrakpeya, George Pemba, Horace Pippin, Kingsley Sambo, Gerard Sekoto, Ancent Soi, Moustapha Souley, Edward Saidi Tingatinga, Zandile Tshabalala, Sane Wadu, Richard Witikani

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Joy & Revelry

The chapter on joy and exuberance is dedicated to moments of celebration and leisure activities: there is always time for a song or a dance, according to the curators. People sing for Steve Biko in Esiri Erheriene-Essi's The Birthday Party (2021), join in the parade in Philomé Obin's Un mardi de Carnaval (1960) or listen to the rhythms in Romare Bearden's Jazz Rhapsody (1982).

Artists: Romare Bearden, Esiri Erheriene-Essi, Barkley L. Hendricks, Clementine Hunter, Jacob Lawrence, Arjan Martins, Moké, Cinthia Sifa Mulanga, Eric Ndlovu, Nicholous Njau, Nestor Vuza Ntoko, Philomé Obin, George Pemba, Chéri Samba, Matundu Tanda, Katlego Tlabela, Charles White

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Repose

Moments of tranquillity are on a par with exuberance. The third floor of the Gegenwart building leaves room for this. Here, people loll on the sofa as in Sundials and Sonnets (2019) by Wangari Mathenge, stroll through the countryside as in Toyin Ojih Odutola's Surveying the Family Seat (2017) or simply sit and enjoy the peace and quiet as in Kudzanai-Violecherit Hwami's An evening in Mazowe (2019) - relaxed people everywhere, alone or in intimate conversation.

Artists: Cornelius Annor, Gideon Appah, Firelei Báez, Amoako Boafo, Beauford Delaney, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Wangari Mathenge, Neo Matloga, Sungi Mlengeya, Ian Mwesiga, Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Eniwaye Oluwaseyi, Marc Padeu, Zéh Palito, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, Henry Taylor, Zandile Tshabalala, Kehinde Wiley, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

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About the Curators

Koyo Kouoh

Koyo Kouoh has been Director and Chief Curator of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) in Cape Town since 2019. Kouoh grew up in Switzerland and moved to Dakar, Senegal, in the 1990s, where she founded the art institution RAW Material Company, a center for art, knowledge and society, in 2008. She was also its artistic director. Before and in parallel, Kouoh organized and curated major exhibitions and biennials worldwide (including Ataraxia, the Salon Suisse at the 2017 Venice Biennale). She has also published extensively on the international significance of the pan-African art community. In 2020, Kouoh was awarded the Prix Meret Oppenheim as one of the most important and influential personalities on the international art scene because, as a curator, critic and founder of cultural institutions, she has shown new ways of mediation and made a lasting contribution to bringing art from the African continent into a global context.

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Tandazani Dhlakama

Born in Zimbabwe, Tandazani Dhlakama has been working as a curator and in art education at Zeitz MOCAA since 2017. Prior to that, she worked at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and was involved in various capacities in exhibitions, conferences and biennials in Africa. Dhlakama holds a Master's degree in Art Gallery and Museum Studies from the University of Leeds, UK (2015), and a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts and Political Science from St. Lawrence University, Canton, N.Y. (2011). Most recently, she curated Witness at El Espacio 23 in Miami: Afro Perspectives from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection - an exhibition on systematic oppression, intergenerational trauma, new worldviews, identity and habitat.

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The Kunstmuseum would like to thank Kadiatou Diallo, Sindi-Leigh McBride and Lorena Rizzo from the Center for African Studies at the University of Basel for their critical view of the adaptation of the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel.

This exhibition is conceived and organized by Zeitz MOCAA . Adapted for Kunstmuseum Basel in collaboration with:
Anita Haldemann, Head of Art & Research, Deputy Director
Daniel Kurjakovic, Curator of Programs
Maja Wismer, Head of Art after 1960, Contemporary Art

Events for this exhibition

Wed 24 Jul

CURATOR'S TOUR

GEGENWART
18:30–19:30

Kuratorinnenführung in der Ausstellung «When We See Us. Hundert Jahre panafrikanische figurative Malerei»

FULLY BOOKED

In German. Mit der Kuratorin Anita Haldemann. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Sat 27 Jul

WORKSHOP

GEGENWART
15:00–16:30

Dialogue Session

The Functional Art Within Community. With Kwaku Dapaah Opoku

A dialogue session on the functionality of African Art derived from shared community practices. The interdisciplinary dialogue series aims to foster conversations that connect museum audiences with the diverse spectrum of Black and African diasporic perspectives in Swiss society. This series is curated by Keabetswe Boccomino (Afrinova). Limited number of participants. Costs: Admission + CHF 5.

Sun 28 Jul

WORKSHOP


11:00–17:00

Offenes Studio Gegenwart: Der Sommer zeichnet Geschichte.

Life by the river Together we will think about everyday life on the Rhine: the people, animals, plants, stones and everything else we encounter. What stories do the river and its banks tell us? What is the relationship between nature and culture around the Rhine? We will give form to our findings, reflections and impressions through paintings, drawings and frottages - outdoors if the weather is fine. Open to all. Participation free of charge.

 

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Visite guidée de l'exposition « When We See Us. Un siècle de peinture figurative panafricaine ».

In French. Coût : entrée + CHF 5.

Sat 3 Aug

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «When We See Us. Hundert Jahre panafrikanische figurative Malerei»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Sun 4 Aug

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Guided tour of the exhibition «When We See Us. A Century of Black Figuration in Painting»

Costs: Admission + CHF 5.

Sat 10 Aug


15:00–17:00

A Light Lyricism. Reading Group and Literary Companion to «When We See Us»

With Sindi-Leigh McBride (researcher and writer) and guests

In six public reading group sessions, we work through a selection of texts by James Baldwin, Ken Bugul, Teju Cole, Akwaeke Emezi, Bernardine Evaristo, Andrea Lee, Maaza Men, Kwame McPherson, Johny Pitts, Koleka Putuma, Zadie Smith, and Brandon Taylor. All texts will be made available to participants in advance. Age: From 16 years. Participation free of charge, registration required via ticket link.

 

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «When We See Us. Hundert Jahre panafrikanische figurative Malerei»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Sun 11 Aug

CONVERSATION


12:30–14:30

Serving Questions

FULLY BOOKED!

Discursive menu and installation by the Hybrid Project Space collective and chef Olivier Bur. At this special lunch, questions will be served that encourage reflection on the exhibition, its themes and the institutional context. Chef Olivier Bur will complement the discussion with food. Hybrid Project Space together with co-hosts Ann Mbuti and Mona-Lisa Kole invite you to have a seat and share your thoughts. E Guete! Participation free of charge, Ticket via ticket link. Limited number of participants.

 

CONVERSATION


14:30–18:00

Serving Questions

Installation open at Studio Gegenwart. Hybrid Project Space is a collective of people from the fields of museum studies, curation, media production, art, architecture and graphic design. The collective engages in discussions with the public on how art and cultural spaces can become more inclusive and diverse. The afternoon session is introduced by a music performance by Tracy September. Participation free of charge, no registration required.

Sat 17 Aug


15:00–17:00

A Light Lyricism. Reading Group and Literary Companion to "When We See Us"

With Sindi-Leigh McBride (researcher and writer) and guests

In six public reading group sessions, we work through a selection of texts by James Baldwin, Ken Bugul, Teju Cole, Akwaeke Emezi, Bernardine Evaristo, Andrea Lee, Maaza Men, Kwame McPherson, Johny Pitts, Koleka Putuma, Zadie Smith, and Brandon Taylor. All texts will be made available to participants in advance. Age: from 16 years. Admission is free, registration is required via ticket link.

 

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «When We See Us. Hundert Jahre panafrikanische figurative Malerei»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Wed 21 Aug

CURATOR'S TOUR

GEGENWART
18:30–19:30

Kuratorinnenführung in der Ausstellung «When We See Us. Hundert Jahre panafrikanische figurative Malerei»

In German. Mit der Kuratorin Maja Wismer. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Sat 24 Aug

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «When We See Us. Hundert Jahre panafrikanische figurative Malerei»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Sun 25 Aug

WORKSHOP


11:00–17:00

Offenes Studio Gegenwart

We question our viewing habits! Through peepholes and self-made telescopes, we search the museum rooms and works of art for unusual patterns. Our sketches will be drawn and reproduced in the Studio Gegenwart to create a single work of art, a large tapestry of patterns. Open to all: families, friends, children, young people and adults are welcome. Free of charge without registration.

 

WORKSHOP


15:00–16:30

Dialogue Session

The Role of Art in Shaping Historical Narratives. With Marilyn Umurungi

This session introduces an intersectional, Afro-feminist lens on BIPOC groups and movements that have become essential in creating visibility for communities of the diaspora. Costs: Entry + 5 CHF

Tue 27 Aug

RENDEZ-VOUS AM MITTAG

GEGENWART
12:30–13:00

Rendez-vous am Mittag: «When We See Us»

In German. Mit der Kuratorin Maja Wismer. Kosten: Eintritt.

Sat 31 Aug

WORKSHOP

GEGENWART
15:00–16:30

Dialogue Session

Storytelling Through Design. With Cherry-Ann Morgan

A practical workshop that invites audiences to tap into new narratives of design through culture and storytelling beyond dominant narratives. The interdisciplinary dialogue series aims to foster conversations that connect museum audiences with the diverse spectrum of Black and African diasporic perspectives in Swiss society. This series is curated by Keabetswe Boccomino (Afrinova). Limited number of participants. Costs: Admission + CHF 5.

Sun 1 Sep

CONVERSATION


11:15–12:45

Sunday Artist Talk

With Sungi Mlengeya (Dar es Salaam), Meleko Mokgosi (Massachusetts), Joy Labinjo (London)

Artists of the exhibition consider the function and significance of painting and art in the Pan-African context as well as the artistic and social challenges with which they currently see themselves confronted. Costs: CHF 10/5 (+ Optional: Entry CHF 13)

 

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Guided tour of the exhibition «When We See Us. A Century of Black Figuration in Painting»

Costs: Admission + CHF 5.

Thu 5 Sep

CONCERT


18:00–21:00

Everyday Blackness

Inspired by "When We See Us", OKRA Collective has developed a new audiovisual installation. The hypnotizing combination of voices, sounds and polyrhythmic music deals with everyday black life from an Afro-diasporic perspective. In collaboration with Anti-Mass, a collective and label from Kampala/Uganda. Costs: CHF 20/15.

Sat 7 Sep

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «When We See Us. Hundert Jahre panafrikanische figurative Malerei»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Wed 11 Sep

CURATOR'S TOUR

GEGENWART
18:30–19:30

Guided tour of the exhibition «When We See Us. A Century of Black Figuration in Painting»

With the curator Daniel Kurjakovic. Costs: Admission + CHF 5.

Sat 14 Sep

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «When We See Us. Hundert Jahre panafrikanische figurative Malerei»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Sat 21 Sep

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «When We See Us. Hundert Jahre panafrikanische figurative Malerei»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Sun 22 Sep

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Visite guidée de l'exposition « When We See Us. Un siècle de peinture figurative panafricaine ».

In French. Coût : entrée + CHF 5.

Sat 28 Sep

WORKSHOP

GEGENWART
15:00–16:30

Dialogue Session

The Role of Art in Shaping Historical Narratives. Mit Marilyn Umurungi

In German. In dieser Veranstaltung wird eine intersektionale, afrofeministische Sichtweise auf BIPoC-Gruppen und -Bewegungen vorgestellt, die für die Sichtbarkeit von Gemeinschaften in der Diaspora entscheidend geworden sind. Kosten: Eintritt + 5 CHF

Sun 29 Sep

WORKSHOP


11:00–17:00

Offenes Studio Gegenwart: Jetzt komm ich!

Who gets to speak in public and who doesn't? Who writes history and about whom is history written? In this open studio, we will use various monuments to reflect on our own thoughts on these questions. Become a sculpture for a monument or design your own monument for a liberating moment in your life! Open to all: families, friends, children, young people and adults are welcome. Free participation without registration.

Thu 3 Oct

CONVERSATION


18:00–21:00

Where do we go from here. Critical outlook with guests as part of "When We See Us"

The Critical Friends of "When We See Us" – historian Lorena Rizzo, curator Kadiatou Diallo and researcher Sindi-Leigh McBride - invite you to an evening with artists, activists and academics to discuss various socio-critical aspects in the discursive environment of "When We See Us", including white supremacy, questions of representation or the situatedness of the exhibition in a Swiss cultural landscape, and to discuss what a sustainable practice of international cooperation could look like. With an intervention by the Ensemble Institut Jazz and a pop-up bar. Admission: CHF 20/15.

Sat 5 Oct

CONVERSATION


12:30–14:00

Serving Questions

FULLY BOOKED!

Discursive menu and installation by the Hybrid Project Space collective and chef Olivier Bur. At this special lunch, questions will be served that encourage reflection on the exhibition, its themes and the institutional context. Chef Olivier Bur will complement the discussion with food. Participation free of charge, Ticket via ticket link. Limited number of participants.

 

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «When We See Us. Hundert Jahre panafrikanische figurative Malerei»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Sun 6 Oct

WORKSHOP

GEGENWART
15:00–16:30

Dialogue Session

The Functional Art Within Community. With Kwaku Dapaah Opoku

Artist and designer Kwaku Opoku leads a conversation centered around the intersection of art and community. The session will closely examine instances where necessities sculpted African ancestral artistic practices, seamlessly integrating functionality and shaping what we now recognise as art. Costs: Entry + 5 CHF

Sat 12 Oct

FÜHRUNG

GEGENWART
15:00–16:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «When We See Us. Hundert Jahre panafrikanische figurative Malerei»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

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