French impressionist Edgar Degas once said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

That’s certainly the case at the North Carolina Museum of Art’s newly expanded African art gallery – an effort made possible through the expertise of UNCG’s Elizabeth Perrill, associate professor of art history.

At a time when African art is becoming increasingly popular among collectors and museums worldwide, Perrill’s skilled oversight as curator helped the museum reimagine and nearly triple the size of this gallery space.

Visitors to the gallery, which opened this past summer, are now greeted by a large map of Africa divided into regional sections. The exhibit’s focus areas are dedicated to specific kingdoms, regions and aesthetic traditions spanning 16 centuries. Section titles such as “Gold as Regalia,” “Art Abounds,” and “Geometry and Abstraction” are designed to “shake people out of their expectations of what African art is,” Perrill says.

More than 100 of the pieces on display – including ceramics, textiles, jewelry, metal works, wooden sculptures, masquerade attire, beadwork, paintings and multi-media collage – have never been seen before in a public exhibition or have not been exhibited in decades.

Perrill’s contribution comes as a timely addition to the state museum during an era when African immigration to the southeastern United States, including North Carolina, is at an all-time high. The state’s African-born population has doubled each decade since the 1970s.

“As we become a destination state for African immigrants, we want all of North Carolina to understand the diversity of Africa,” Perrill says. “We want visitors to recognize that Africa is an entire continent, and there are subtleties and complexities within each region.”

Want to learn more about the exhibition and Perrill’s research? Click here to read the full story.

 

This post was adapted from a UNCG Research Magazine story written by Dawn Martin. Photography courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art.