Pan-Africanism to be explored in UMMA’s inaugural commission


University of Michigan Museum of Art visitors will have the opportunity to view a new large-scale installation and hear from the artist during its semi-annual UMMA After Hours event Sept. 21.

Meleko Mokgosi, a Botswana-born and now Brooklyn-based artist, will be onsite completing “Pan-African Pulp” on Sept. 20-22. It will be on view at UMMA through fall 2021.


For UMMA’s inaugural commission — which will be installed in the Vertical Gallery that can be viewed from any floor in the museum — Mokgosi explores the history of Pan-Africanism, the global movement to unite ethnic groups of sub-Saharan African descent, and its links to African liberation movements.

Meleko Mokgosi, a Botswana-born and now Brooklyn-based artist, explores the history of Pan-Africanism in his “Pan-African Pulp” commission at the U-M Museum of Art. (Photo courtesy of Meleko Mokgosi)

“With the launch of an ongoing commission program for new art — the first since UMMA’s founding in 1946 — faculty, students and the public will collaborate with the artists and witness their work as they’re making it,” said UMMA Director Christina Olsen.

“Mokgosi was the ideal artist for this first commission, as his work so deeply focuses on issues of equity and representation. I’m confident that ‘Pan-African Pulp’ will stop the thousands of UMMA visitors in their tracks as they consider the ways art and artists confront and interpret society’s largest questions and issues.”

Mokgosi’s installation features four elements:

  • A massive wall of large-scale panels inspired by African photo novels of the 1960s and ’70s.
  • A mural examining the complexity of blackness, which he will paint on site Sept. 20-22.
  • A selection of posters from Pan-African movements founded in Detroit and Africa in the 1960s.
  • Stories from Setswana literature told through wall texts.

Videos of students interpreting these stories will be accessible with a QR code.

Ali Subotnick, guest curator at UMMA, said the installation is vividly inspired by Detroit’s deep history of activism, where organizations such as Black Nation of Islam, The Republic of New Afrika, Shrine of the Black Madonna (Black Christian Nationalism), Pan-African Congress and United Negro Improvement Association were founded.

“In the last five years, Pan-Africanism has experienced a revival in Detroit, with such newly founded groups as New Era Detroit, Coalition for Black Struggle and Change Agent Consortium, along with local chapters of Black Lives Matter and Black Youth Project 100,” Subotnick said.

“The renewed urgency for diversity and civil rights in Detroit, and the country as a whole, heightens the importance of Mokgosi’s project and makes clear the deep connections between the historical movements and those developing today.”

With this project, Mokgosi says he hopes to find meaningful ways of reconceptualizing the importance of a movement that sought to build alliances towards black consciousness, and foregrounding the rights and aspirations of Africans to self-determination and self-governance.

“There is no doubt about the injustices, inhumanity, exploitation, violence and racism caused by and associated with the Euro-American slave trade, European imperialism in Africa and institutionalized racism in the Americas,” he said.

“The effects of these are ongoing and reflected not only in cultural and geopolitical contexts but also in the very reproduction and circulation of capital. Detroit and its links to African liberation movements are key in understanding the history and promise of Pan-Africanism.”

Mokgosi has been the subject of significant recent solo exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Williams College Museum of Art and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

His narrative installations feature paintings, sculptures and texts that examine issues surrounding history, politics, popular culture, identity and art.

Lead support for “Pan-African Pulp” is provided by Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch. Additional support is provided by the U-M African Studies Center.


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