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Around the World in Five Minutes

Stephanie Foster, Lead Interpretive Planner, Rachel Arzuaga, Interpretive Planner
April 16, 2021
Fountain of Blood, 1961. Malangatana Ngwenya (Mozambican, 1936–2011). 2012.67

As an encyclopedic art museum, housing art objects from every culture, place, and period, the Cleveland Museum of Art has core values that embrace diversity and inclusion. The contemporary art collection is no exception. We are excited to welcome you back into the newly reinstalled, and reimagined, contemporary galleries reopening Tuesday, April 20.

Through this reinstallation project we are showcasing the global nature of this collection in order to prioritize and celebrate the work of diverse artists, particularly work by women and artists of color from around the world.

“By prioritizing the work of diverse artists from around the world, this new installation demonstrates the wide range of perspectives, backgrounds and identities that animate contemporary art,” said William M. Griswold, CMA’s director. “These galleries are the first to be reimagined in 2021 and are part of an exciting initiative undertaken in connection with our strategic plan, which calls for us to reinstall several galleries each year, enriching our visitors’ experience with new works, themes and interpretive approaches.”

Go around the world to visit five artworks from five artists, in five minutes in the reinstalled contemporary gallery. You’ll get a glimpse of how an artist’s background and point of view inform and influence their artwork.

Fountain of Blood, 1961. Malangatana Ngwenya (Mozambican, 1936–2011). Oil on fiberboard; framed: 119.4 x 147.3 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Lloyd H. Ellis, Jr. 2012.67. © Malangatana Ngwenya.

Malangatana Ngwenya was born in rural Mozambique, in southeast Africa, at a time when the country was still under Portuguese rule. He was working as both an artist and an activist during the Mozambican War of Independence (1964–1975). Much of his work, like this painting, is a response to the oppression by European colonialism and the terrible violence he witnessed and endured. In 1975, Mozambique became one of the last African nations to achieve its independence. Today, Malangatana is celebrated as both creator and activist for the role he played in the colonial resistance.

Let your eyes wander over the surface of this painting. What do you notice first? Is it the skeleton at the center? Or perhaps the many rivulets of red draw your eye? This painting by Ngwenya represents his signature style — a tightly packed, colorful composition with overlapping animal, human, and supernatural figures — combined with local folklore that says that when one group moves onto another people’s land, their spirits wage war.

(Right) Troyanas (de la serie Módulos Infinitos) (Trojan Women [of the Infinite Module series]), 1964/1993. Zilia Sánchez (Cuban, b. 1926). Acrylic on canvas: 91.4 x 137.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Dorothea Wright Hamilton Fund 2020.262. © Zilia Sánchez, Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co., New York.

Born in 1926 in Havana, Cuba, Zilia Sánchez has often turned to female warriors for inspiration. The rhythmic, organic shapes of the canvas recall the female form, and the repetition of the mounds evoke a line-up of mighty soldiers, suggesting the collective power of women.

At first glance the lines, shapes and colors of this artwork by Zilia Sánchez may seem deceptively simple. Look again. Move closer and take a peek from the side. The canvas has been stretched over a wooden armature to create gentle mounds that end in peaks. White acrylic paint exaggerates the effects of these slopes, while black paint makes the rest of the canvas appear to recede. The title of the work, Troyanas (de la series Módulos Infinitos) (Trojan Women [of the Infinite Module series]), refers to the mythic women of Troy and their resilience after their home was sacked and destroyed by the Greeks during the Trojan War.

Serpent Deity (Nag Devta I), 1979. Mrinalini Mukherjee (Indian, 1949–2015). Undyed and dyed hemp rope and fibers; cotton; steel; overall: 114.3 x 83.8 x 129.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Phyllis Granoff 2016.544. © Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation.

Mrinalini Mukherjee was born in Mumbai, India in 1949. She began to explore the use of the traditional hemp rope to make contemporary sculpture early in her four-decade career as an artist. She primarily took her inspiration from the natural world, and her sculptures’ undulating surfaces fold, drape, reveal and conceal, evoking sexulaity and eroticism.

Rope is a versatile material. Think of all the things you can do with a piece of rope! You can use it to tie two things together, to wrap something up, or to make knots. Inspired by the long history of Indian artists and craftspeople who worked with this material, Mukherjee liked to work with hemp rope for her sculptures based on nature. For a work like this one, she began by fashioning with an underlying steel armature. Then she tied, wrapped, and knotted the hemp rope to create an organic form reminiscent of a rearing serpent. Snakes have been frequent subjects in the art of India for thousands of years, often representing deities, but also encompassing the ideas of birth and rebirth.

Las Meninas, 2019. Simone Leigh (American, b. 1967). Terracotta, steel, raffia, porcelain; overall: 182.9 x 213.4 x 152.4 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchased with funds donated by Scott Mueller 2019.175. © 2019 Simone Leigh. All rights reserved.

Simone Leigh is a contemporary artist most known for her large-scale sculptures. Using various materials, the Chicago-born artist focuses her work on the marginalization of women of color, giving voice to their experiences. Through her practice Leigh explores and celebrates the Black female figure while simultaneously contemplating the effects of racial discrimination.

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When you view Las Meninas in person you can’t help but marvel at the commanding presence of the sculpture commands in the gallery. From her powerful pose to the dark void where her face should be, she captures the viewer’s attention, reeling them in with mystery and intrigue. If you look closer, you notice the tiny carved flowers that frame her face, the individual strands of raffia that make up her skirt, or the rich brown of terra cotta peeking out under her skin.

El manto negro / The black shroud, 2020. Teresa Margolles (Mexican, b. 1963). 1,600 burnished ceramic pieces; each approximately: 10.5 x 11 x 3.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchased with funds donated by Scott Mueller 2020.64. © Teresa Margolles.

Teresa Margolles is Mexican conceptual artist whose work examines the causes and consequences of violence and death, especially against women. She trained as a forensic pathologist and worked in a morgue for over a decade before turning to art. She was born in Culiacán, an area riddled with crime and drug-related deaths, poverty, political unrest, government corruption, and the military. This installation is ultimately about mourning, allowing Margolles to speak for the victims silenced by atrocities.

When taken in altogether, you may notice the simplicity of El manto negro with its monochromatic repetition of square-like forms. The work comprises 1,600 individual clay tiles, produced by artisans in Mata Ortiz, Mexico. The clay used to form the tiles comes from local deposits. To achieve the shiny, dark finish ceramicists fired the clay with a traditional technique that uses smoke from burned cow manure and then polish each fragment by hand. Known for its production of ceramic vessels, Mata Ortiz is now controlled by cartels, and the ceramicists, mainly women, have suffered from the resulting violence. Each individual tile represents a life lost in the pervasive drug wars of the region.


“This installation carries forward in time stories whose beginnings are told throughout the museum’s historic collections,” said Emily Liebert, CMA’s curator of contemporary art. “Creating connections across time and place is one of the great opportunities of presenting contemporary art in an encyclopedic museum.”

We cannot wait for your to dive into the new contemporary gallery reinstallation, which is always FREE with general admission. Open your eyes to a fresh new point of view on this space, the artworks, and diverse artists. Find these artists in CMA’s collection online by name, searching “contemporary”, or by using the popular search filters “LGBTQ+ After 1900” and “African American Artists”.

Reserve your general admission ticket online to view these five artworks and more in person starting April 20, 2021.