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Skidmore College

Curating "Africa Pop"

April 17, 2017
Africa Pop at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College 

Hannah Traore '17 beams as she walks into the Tang Museum's Payne Room. She scans the yellow- and red-painted walls and the framed photographs that rest on the floor awaiting final placement. Ian Berry, the Tang's Dayton Director, asks, "So, where are you thinking for Hassan's work?" The two look together at a colorful photograph by Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj that was recently acquired for the Tang's collection, and they discuss how it relates to the other photographs.

It's a telling moment in the months-long curatorial process, which is Traore's senior thesis project as an art history major. Her exhibition Africa Pop Studio, open through April 23, explores African studio portraiture and its impact on the broader diaspora. Positioning the éMalian photographer Malick Sidibé as a touchstone for a new generation of artists such as Hajjaj and the American artist Mickalene Thomas, the exhibition evokes the mood of an African photography studio-a space of exuberant patterns and posed bodies. The show culminates in an evening of music, dance, spoken word, and West African fashion, on Saturday, April 22, starting at 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

"I have never been more proud of something in my life, and I owe so much of that to the Tang Museum, Ian, and Rachel Seligman," Traore says.

(Seligman is the Tang's assistant director for curatorial affairs and a 1991 Skidmore graduate.) "They supported me every step of the way, challenging my ideas in order to foster creativity. It is impossible to describe the feeling when a work of art that you have only dreamed about being in your show hangs in front of you." She adds, "This experience has made me into a more critical thinker with a more developed eye. And because of it, I now wish to pursue a career in curating."

Berry says, "Hannah's project adds to the Tang's rich tradition of student-curated projects. By working with collection objects and visiting artists, our students can put into action so many of the lessons they've learned inside and outside the classroom." In addition, he notes, "They provoke us to see our collection in new ways and to come up with unique ways of making our collection topical and alive."

On Thursday, April 20, African Pop Studio will be the location of the next Accelerator Series talk, "Migration and Borders: Visible and Invisible Walls," featuring artist Hassan Hajjaj, Irish photographer Richard Mosse, and artist and activist Tanya Selvaratnam, with the Tang's Curator-at-Large Isolde Brielmaier as moderator.

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