Thursday October 22, 2020
Tags for: The Cleveland Museum of Art Presents Second Careers: Two Tributaries in African Art
  • Press Release

The Cleveland Museum of Art Presents Second Careers: Two Tributaries in African Art

Exhibition explores the connections between historical African art and contemporary practice

The connections between historical African art and contemporary practice are deep but not always apparent. Second Careers: Two Tributaries in African Art probes this connection through a smart selection of stellar highlights from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s African collection and loaned works by six contemporary African artists of different generations. The exhibition is on view in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Julia and Larry Pollock Focus Gallery from November 1, 2020, through March 14, 2021.

“Enigmatic, awe-inspiring and accumulative are some of the words used to describe historical African art as well as its impact on the viewer,” said William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “This exhibition contemplates how contemporary African artists from different generations draw inspiration from and seek transformative encounters with the historical canon, providing a critical understanding of African art, past and present.”

Second Careers: Two Tributaries in African Art presents objects from nine cultures in Central and West Africa that are juxtaposed with large-scale contemporary installations, sculptures and photographs. The exhibition considers the status of canonical African art objects as they begin their “second careers” upon entering museum collections. It simultaneously examines modes of artistic production in Africa that employ mediums that once served other purposes in everyday life.

“The exhibition’s premise is twofold,” said Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, the exhibition’s curator and former curator of African Art at the CMA, currently the Steven and Lisa Tananbaum Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “Second Careers explores the role of historical African art in the Western museum context: how the objects made their way into the museum and the expectations placed on them to educate, to act as vectors of cultural memory and history and, ultimately, to add value to the institution in their second careers. The exhibition’s secondary focus is the relationship between historical arts of Africa and contemporary practices.”

Objects from the CMA collection in the exhibition consist of male and female figures and masks, a masquerade dance costume, a headdress, a prestige belt, a hunter’s tunic and a throne from nine cultures in Central and West Africa (Yombe, Songye, Yoruba, Babanki, Baule, Chokwe, Malinke, Yaka, Kuba, and Senufo). They are positioned in dialogue with large-scale works by El Anatsui (Ghana), Nnenna Okore (Nigeria), Elias Sime (Ethiopia), Gonçalo Mabunda (Mozambique), Tahir Carl Karmali (Kenya and United States) and Zohra Opoku (Ghana). The contemporary works draw attention to how African artists practicing today address historical African art as a living archive from which they draw inspiration and seek transformative encounters.

Please view the press kit for more information and a selection of visual highlights.


Virtual Programming

Memory, Materiality, and Transformation: Contemporary Artists and African Traditions

Wednesday, December 9, 6:00 p.m. 
Organized in tandem with the CMA exhibition Second Careers: Two Tributaries in African Art, join artists Nnenna Okore and Tahir Carl Karmali for a conversation with exhibition curator Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi as they reflect on the themes of memory, materiality and transformation, and discuss how contemporary artists engage with traditional African works. Moderated by CMA curator Kristen Windmuller-Luna.

Fall Members Party

Thursday, November 19, 6:00 p.m.
Exclusively for members (all levels)
All CMA members are invited to celebrate the fall season of exhibitions. Hear from the exhibitions’ curators and enjoy musical performances and more with fellow CMA friends.

The Art of Celebrating—Leadership Circle Holiday Party

Thursday, December 1, 6:00 p.m.
Exclusively for Leadership Circle members
Leadership Circle members are invited to this holiday-themed event featuring Kristen Windmuller-Luna, curator of African art; Seth Pevnick, curator of Greek and Roman art; and Sue Bergh, curator of Pre-Columbian and Native North American art as they explore libations in 20th-century Africa, ancient Greece, and the ancient Andes through the CMA’s collection.

One Work—Second Careers

Thursday, December 3, 6:00 p.m.
Exclusively for CMA Insider and Leadership Circle members
CMA Insider members are invited to hear insights from Curator of African Art Kristen Windmuller-Luna into the fascinating history of the 20th-century Egúngún masquerade dance costume, from its origins in Nigeria to its current place in the CMA exhibition.


Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by a 132-page catalogue that features a substantive, well-illustrated essay by Nzewi, as well as interviews with the six contemporary artists and accompanying images. This publication is crucial in conveying the direction for African art at the Cleveland Museum of Art to an audience which may not have seen an exhibition that includes both historical and contemporary African art.

Visiting the museum’s collections is always FREE to the public. Reserve FREE entry tickets. The museum’s hours of operation are Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays. The last ticket reservation for the day is at 3:30 p.m. There will be no new entries into the museum after 4:30 p.m.

For more information about the museum’s new safety procedures, please view the FAQ sheet on the museum’s website at


Contact the Museum's Media Relations Team:
(216) 707-2261