The Africa Connection: Ashley Bryan and El Anatsui

This year has been a great time for Museum visitors to learn about the wonderful world of book illustrations through the work of author and artist Ashley Bryan. Bryan began writing while growing up in Depression-era New York and gained success as an artist in the late 1960s. After illustrating several books of American myths, he noticed a lack of books geared toward minorities, particularly African Americans. In response Bryan became interested in retelling original African stories for children. By interpreting these stories with boldness and vibrancy, Bryan provided a fresh perspective on traditional tales, inspiring a new generation of readers. A similar treatment of African American spirituals translated his love of music and dance into print.

In some ways Rhythms of the Heart: The Illustration of Ashley Bryan is an ideal exhibition for the NCMA, allowing viewers to make associations between it and El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa. Both are retrospectives of the careers of prolific men–one from North America, the other from Africa. Both El Anatsui and Ashley Bryan are true artistic masters with firm grasps of very different mediums. In El Anatsui’s case, visitors can explore wood sculptures, metal wall sculptures, and drawings, noting that the artist understands and has talent for each mode of creation; Ashley Bryan’s illustrations shine whether made from construction paper cutouts, linoleum prints, or poster paint. And finally, both artists share a deep connection to Africa, which comes across in the colors, subject matter, and design in each of their works.

While you’re visiting these exhibitions, don’t forget to ponder how these exhibitions connect to our permanent collection in West Building, too–the African Gallery and the Modern and Contemporary Galleries provide great starting points for comparison.

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