Ade Omotosho couldn’t think of a more perfect topic for his first big exhibition. While in school, the Dallas Museum of Art’s newly appointed Nancy and Tim Hanley assistant curator of contemporary art specialized in the global Black diaspora, and now he’s curating the Dallas leg of Afro-Atlantic Histories, Oct. 22, 2023-Feb. 11, 2024.
The ambitious exhibition charts the transatlantic slave trade and its legacies in the African diaspora through works of art and documents produced in Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe, from the 17th century to today. This is the tour’s final stop, having previously been presented at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; and its originating home in 2018, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo in Brazil, in partnership with the Instituto Tomie Ohtake.
“This feels like the ideal first project to begin my time here at the DMA,” says Omotosho. “It connects to so many intellectual questions I was pursuing as an undergrad at UT Austin, and that have guided my work as a curator since then.”
Omotosho says that Afro-Atlantic Histories has evolved with each stop, allowing its host museums to incorporate pieces from their permanent collections and editing out works as necessary—for example, the Brazilian exhibition contained around 400 pieces, while Dallas will display approximately 100.
“What’s included from place to place may have changed considerably, but the show is still vast and expansive,” explains Omotosho. “There are so many great works! What’s different here from other cities is more in terms of the arrangements and way works are hung alongside each other. Several DMA pieces have been part of the national and international tour from the beginning.”
Imagine seeing a Zanelli print in the same gallery space as a Eugene Delacroix painting from the DMA’s own collection, Omotosho muses, or historical paintings by Jean-Baptiste Debret, Frans Post, and Dirk Valkenburg displayed with contemporary art by Melvin Edwards, Ibrahim Mahama, and Kara Walker.
The exhibition is organized around six groupings: Maps and Margins, Enslavements and Emancipations, Everyday Lives, Rites and Rhythms, Portraits, and Resistances and Activism. Omotosho worked hand-in-hand with the DMA’s senior curator of contemporary art, Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, to coordinate the show in Dallas, remarking on the coincidence that they both have a background and special interest in Brazilian art.
Rosana Paulino, The Permanence of Structures, 2017, digital print on cut and sewn fabric, Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand – MASP, Gift of Fernando Abdalla and Camila Abdalla in the context of the Afro-Atlantic Histories exhibition, 2018
Barrington Watson, Conversation, 1981, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Jamaica
Djanira da Motta e Silva, Bahian Market, 1956, oil on canvas, Private collection, Salvador, Bahia
Édouard-Antoine Renard, A Slave Rebellion on a Slaveship, 1833, oil on canvas, Musée du Nouveau-Monde, Collections d’Art et d’Histoire, La Rochelle, France
Marilyn Nance, The White Eagles, Black Indians of New Orleans, 1980, gelatin silver print, Light Work Collection, Syracuse
“We’ve come at it from different angles and intellectual foundations, and it’s been really wonderful to work alongside her and draw on our own strengths as we organize the show,” Omotosho says. “I can’t wait to see the ways that our local audiences connect with the exhibition.”
Though most of the community programming and outreach has yet to be confirmed, Omotosho does say that there will be a particular push to offer more access to people who have never visited the museum before. Free days are a possibility, he hints, as are opportunities to feature the exhibition in the DMA’s Late Nights series, where special experiences, tours, and more are presented while the museum stays open until 11 pm. There’s also hope for a program to coincide with Black History Month in February.
“This is a really rich visual survey of the global black diaspora that’s rooted in the juxtaposition of historical and contemporary works. It excavates the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade,” Omotosho says. “I’m excited that visitors will be able to see really important works by Black American artists alongside Black Brazilian artists and those working on African continents—there’s a deep range here that is very global in its reach.”