“The exhibition comes at a crucial time in the public understanding of Africa and its arts and history,” said Gus Casely-Hayford, director of the museum. “Coinciding with two momentous historical anniversaries—400 years since the arrival of the first enslaved African laborer in North America, and the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections—it invites visitors to consider both the horrors and hopes at work in the continent’s history. Through the stories they tell, the artists assembled here challenge us to be our best selves.”
Heroes features well-known artworks from the museum’s permanent collection, as well as several new acquisitions. Among the new works on display is a work by former South African president Nelson Mandela. The watercolor depicts the rock quarry in the prison on Robben Island where he was exiled for many years and is a haunting embodiment of the sacrifices he made in the struggle for freedom in South Africa.
“Heroes expresses the National Museum of African Art’s commitment to the dignity, complexity and universally accessible excellence of African art history,” said Kevin Dumouchelle, curator at the museum. “Further, it stands as a testament to the museum’s commitment to the telling of unique, compelling and specific historical African stories. The artworks in “Heroes” invite us to imagine our roles in building a new future.”
Visitors to the exhibition can engage further with the artworks on their smartphones using the Smithsonian-developed, web-based HI application. Visitors can scan a work of art to discover an added layer of digital content, including videos, images and key facts connecting the artworks to their corresponding “heroes in history.” The HI application does not require download, and it can be accessed at hi.si.edu. The digital exhibition will also be available on monitors in the gallery and on the museum’s website. The museum’s first exhibition-specific playlist will be available on Spotify Nov. 16.