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ExhibitionInsistent Presence: Contemporary African Art from the Chazen Collection

Sep 5–Dec 23, 2023

The Human Figure in the Chazen Museum of Art’s Contemporary African Art Initiative

Insistent Presence: Contemporary African Art from the Chazen Collection presents forty-five works of sculpture, painting, ceramics, printmaking, and photography by twenty-four contemporary artists living and working on the African continent and in the diaspora. The work comprises new acquisitions made possible by a significant five-year gift from the Straus Family Foundation. Insistent Presence examines how artists have reimagined the human figure as a lens to pose questions about social and political histories, contested identities, and the possible future of how we relate to one another. The exhibition title was inspired by renowned African art scholars and curators Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu. These scholars point to the enduring usefulness of depicting the human figure for artists keen on affirming the humanity of Africans and those critical of postcolonial governments. In this exhibition, artists provocatively explore the human body through juxtapositions of those political concerns with emotions and passions of everyday lived experiences.

The exhibition and its accompanying publication are organized into three discrete sections along the notions of the presence and absence of the human body. The first section, “The Body in Society,” explores how identity is shaped through isolation, proximity, and interaction among figures depicted in groups or individually. These artists are concerned with the human form as an avenue for expressing the intersections and ruptures between privately and socially constructed identities. The second section, “The Artist Is Present,” examines artists’ production strategies of using their own bodies as the primary medium. These artists share their personal histories through theatrical performances, photography, and sculpture.  Works in the final section, “The Absent Body,” remain resolutely non-figurative. Accessories and accouterments prompt the viewer to form a mental image of the body. Each section in Insistent Presence highlights twenty-first-century ways of being in the world and invites us to reflect on ourselves, our relationships, and the worlds we inhabit. The works expand the museum’s permanent collection while also strengthening the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s collaborative relationships with living artists and contemporary organizations on the African continent.

Above: Nana Yaw Oduro (Ghanaian, b. 1994), PHILIP, 2019, inkjet print, 19 5/8 x 29 1/2 in., Sara Guyer and Scott Straus Contemporary African Art Initiative made possible by the Straus Family Foundation, 2021.28.3

Programming & Financial Support

Support for the exhibition is provided by The Brittingham Wisconsin Trust. The collection was made possible by a generous gift from the Straus Family Foundation.