There Is A Body: Legacy of the Ancestral Arts in the 21st Century

In his 1925 essay “The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts,” philosopher and art critic Alain Locke proposed what was then a radical idea: that the arts of African civilizations were worthy of the same regard as the arts of classical antiquity, and that recognition of their aesthetic value should be independent of their influence on European modernism. He also encouraged Black artists to look to these “ancestral arts” for inspiration.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of Locke’s influential essay, There Is A Body: Legacy of the Ancestral Arts in the 21st Century focuses on an intergenerational group of four contemporary artists—David O. Alekhuogie, Sanford Biggers, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Matthew Angelo Harrison— who are forging personal connections to African art and interrogating its appropriation by the Western cannon. The title of the exhibition, There Is A Body: Legacy of the Ancestral Arts in the 21st Century is a play on the historical treatment of African art within the history of the art. Often reduced to objects behind glass, African art has long been analyzed without cultural and spiritual context. The artists in this exhibition look at African art and employ these objects within their practice with curiosity that connects both personal history and collective memory. They affirm the “soul” of their subject through challenging both formal and intellectual engagement–looking at it from the side, back, front and quite literally at times, on the inside, reifying these objects anew, alive and with agency.

This exhibition is organized by Guest Curator John Edmonds. Edmonds is an American artist and photographer who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Edmonds earned his MFA from Yale University and a BFA from the Corcoran School of Arts. His work is in collections worldwide including the Guggenheim, MoMA, The Getty Museum and Yale University Art Gallery. Edmonds has taught at Yale University, Harvard University, and School of Visual Arts. In 2019, he was included in the Whitney Biennial.


Lyle Ashton Harris

AfroPunk Odalisque, 2018

Dye Sublimation print on aluminum

48 x 64 in. (121.9 x 162.6 cm)

Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94

Also on view