through african eyes

i just ran over to the Detroit Institute of the Arts as fast as i could to catch the last two hours of the Through African Eyes exhibit.

it broke my heart in all kinds of ways.

i got to meet the curator Nii Quarcoopome, who worked for a decade to pull together this collection, which offers a range of African responses to colonization. the question we are asked to begin with is – are we looking at representation, or mockery? was this art a way of honoring spirits, or understanding outsiders?

the first pieces show how white colonizers were viewed as they first came. the ocean was a home for divine power, and whiteness up to that point indicated a spirit – so white men in boats coming in from the ocean were seen through a perspective of potential divinity.

my education is as a descendant of slaves, so my story has always been one of imagined tragedy – surely when Africans saw whites arrive they ran, they defended themselves, they fought to the death to keep their own from being ripped away, and they mourned for the lost, and still long for us as we feel that deeper longing for home…

no? it wasn’t like that? it was so so much more complex and manipulative and patriarchal – it was colonization AND slavery, it was cultural hierarchy and paternalism and heartbreakingly, deceptively, permanent.

i don’t know how, but i hope you see this exhibit if you can.