African American • Karo Courtship by Lisa Green
African American • Karo Courtship by Lisa Green

Ancient Traditions – Contemporary Forms

The Embassy of the Republic of Ghana, Washington, DC
October 1 – October 31, 2004

exhibition | artist bios | exhibition catalogue

Curator’s Statement

Ancient Traditions – Contemporary Forms, is an exhibition that explores the theory of atavistic memory. In Memory Lines: Art in the Pan-African World, Nkiru Nzegwu (2000) suggests that “experiences make up history and history is constituted by memories.” Genetically these memories, like cultural DNA, are passed down from generation to generation and serve as a historical roadmap to the rites, rituals and traditions of one’s kinship.

African American, whose socialization differs from that of his African cousin, expresses this cultural memory innately through shared ideologies in Africanized forms. African American artists, in particular, continue to reproduce an aesthetic that is reminiscent of their cultural heritage.

In this exhibit, we employ the artwork of Ghanaian and African American artists to explore and prove this theory. Their paintings and sculptures become the visual language by which the stories of their cultural histories are revealed. Ghanaian traditions survive as cultural genetic memories embedded within the artwork of African-Americans – artwork that reveals a striking resemblance to its cultural parentage.

The cultural voices of the Ghanaian artists are juxtaposed against the rhythm and harmony of the African Americans. As in the tradition of African music, the Ghanaians extend the ancient “call,” eliciting a contemporary “response” from the African Americans. Through this cultural song, we discover the innate similarities derived from the ties of African ancestry – a bond which has not ceased by the separation of an ocean, a bond which continues through atavistic memory.

Shared ethnicity, ideologies and values link the Ghanaians and the African Americans featured here. And it is their artistic renderings – conveyed through realism, symbolism, abstraction and cubism – that exhibit common practices and beliefs. A continuity that spans generations exists in the instinctive use of color, rhythm and patterns that evokes, as Nzegwu suggest by “the human cultural consciousness that derives from the ties of ancestry.”

We challenge you, not only to discover the innate similarities that exist at the core of each artist’s rendering, but to find your own visual tradition. Within the cultural imagery, is a story that is reflective of your heritage – one that pays homage to your rich ancestry, honors your family, and preserves the traditions of your kinship.

Myrtis Bedolla, Chief Curator