|Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi. Photo by Franko Khoury, National Museum of African Art. Image via artdaily.org.|
The Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College has appointed Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi as its first Curator of African Art. A specialist in modern and contemporary African and African Diaspora arts, Nzewi will be responsible for the documentation, preservation, research, and development of the museum’s African art collection—which encompasses some 1,900 historic and contemporary objects from all regions of the continent in a variety of media—and will engage Dartmouth faculty and students in the development of curricular and co-curricular programming related to the museum’s African holdings. He will begin on August 26, 2013.
“Smooth’s deep knowledge of historical African objects, combined with his unique perspective on African contemporary art, makes him an ideal appointment for the position of Curator of African Art at the Hood,” said Michael Taylor, Director of the Hood Museum of Art. “The establishment of this new position affirms the Hood’s aspiration to build an exceptional collection of African art from all time periods and cultures, and to showcase that collection through groundbreaking exhibition and educational programs that inform a greater understanding of the artistic traditions of the African continent, both past and present.”
Born in Nigeria, Nzewi received his Ph.D. in Art History at Emory University, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Dak’Art Biennial and its influence on contemporary African art, from 1992 to the present. He was awarded a Pre-Doctoral Fellowship from the National Museum of African Arts, Smithsonian Institution, in 2012, and earned a postgraduate diploma in the African Program in Museum and Heritage Studies from the University of Western Cape, South Africa. He has curated exhibitions in Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, and the United States, including most recently Transitions: Contemporary South African Works on Paper at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in 2009 and Windows Part 1: New Works by Ndary Lo as part of the fringe exhibitions of the Dak’Art Biennial in 2012. A practicing visual artist, Nzewi studied sculpture under the supervision of El Anatsui at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he earned a B.A. in Fine and Applied Art. He has participated in over thirty exhibitions and artist residency programs in Africa, Europe, and the United States, and, in 2011, he received the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation Fellowship for African Artists.
“I am truly honored to accept the Curator of African Art position at the Hood Museum of Art. The Hood has a fantastic history and arguably one of the oldest and finest museum collections of African art on any campus in North America. I am coming to the Hood at a very auspicious moment of exciting possibilities, when it is expanding its facility and growing its African collection. I am excited to be joining the curatorial staff at the Hood and to be able to contribute to the vibrant arts community at Dartmouth,” said Nzewi. “The Hood is noted for encouraging a diversity of peoples and perspectives and for placing the art object at the center of the educational experience. I look forward to working with students, faculty, and staff in the development of programming that will bring to life a greater appreciation and understanding of art from Africa, whether it be contemporary or traditional creations.”
The Hood’s African art collection represents the great range of artistic expression, media, and aesthetics on the African continent, and its objects date from approximately 2040 BCE to the present. The collection has its roots in the first decades of the nineteenth century, when works from ancient Egypt were acquired by Dartmouth, and it expanded significantly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to include works from sub-Saharan Africa, beginning with a gift of forty-eight objects from South Africa in 1885 by Josiah Tyler, missionary and son of Dartmouth College President Bennett Tyler. Significant gifts made during the second half of the twentieth century enhanced the collection in colonial-era sculpture from West and Central Africa, including approximately fifty sculptural works given by Evelyn A. and William B. Jaffe, Class of 1964H, during the 1960s and 1970s; almost two hundred brass castings, primarily used as body ornamentation, given by Arnold and Joanne Syrop in the 1980s and 1990s; and about eighty sculptures from the Harry A. Franklin Family Collection in the 1990s. Recent additions to the collection of sculptural works from East Africa further diversify the Hood’s collection of African art. A new direction for the museum is represented by the addition of contemporary works by African and African diasporic artists over the past decade, including art by El Anatsui, Magdalene Odundo, and Wangechi Mutu, among others.