National Museum of African Art and Smithsonian Libraries Unveil “Artists’ Books and Africa”

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and the Smithsonian Libraries present a new exhibition, “Artists’ Books and Africa,” at the National Museum of African Art beginning Sept. 16. “Artists’ Books and Africa” will be on display through Sept. 11, 2016.

An artist’s book is a work of art that can be held and touched—one with pages to turn, flaps to unfold and enclosures to explore. As 3-D artworks, artists’ books build on the traditional codex—sequential bound pages, but they expand and push those boundaries in limitless creative ways. The books are intended as visual artworks, because structure and format supersede content.

“The artistry of these books lies in their physical formats,” said Janet Stanley, librarian at the Warren M. Robbins Library of the National Museum of African Art. “‘Artists’ Books and Africa’ introduces a genre new to African art, but well established internationally—the artist’s book. On view are not only artists’ books by African artists, but also by international artists who choose African subjects. The books encompass everything from poetry, folk literature and personal stories to socio-political commentaries and historical encounters on the continent.”

 “Artists’ Books and Africa” showcases fine art books as well as those employing multiple formats, materials and techniques. Through the artists’ books, the exhibition explores African history and cultures by embodying collective memory and reclaiming cultural heritage and storytelling. Visitors will see several kinds of artist books, including folios, accordion folds and gatefolds.

 “Artists’ Books in Africa” features Willow Legge’s An African Folktale (Guildford: 1979), Peggy Buth’s Desire in Representation (Maastricht: 2008), Otobong Edet Nkanga’s No Be Today Story O! (Amsterdam: 2010), Mark Attwood’s Qauqaua: A San Folk Story from Botswana Told by Coex’ae Qgam (Johannesburg: 1996) and Daniel Halter’s Take Me to Your Leader (Capetown: 2006).

The 25 books displayed in “Artists’ Books and Africa” are from the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Libraries’ Warren M. Robbins Library and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.