When We See Us — A Century of Black Figuration in Painting

© esiri erheriene-essi, courtesy jorge m. pérez collection, miami

Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart
Until October 27, 2024

In what ways have artists from the African continent and its far-flung diaspora processed the experience of the quotidian in their painting over the last 100 years? Koyo Kouoh, Director and Chief Curator of the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town, South Africa, and her team undertook extensive research to find out. The result is a comprehensive show that brings together works by 156 artists—a kaleidoscope of Black figurative painting over the last 100 years. Zeitz MOCAA has created a groundbreaking exhibition that demands to be seen and will now be shown at the Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart.
The exhibition’s title is inspired by the 2019 Netflix miniseries “When They See Us” by African-American director Ava DuVernay, which focuses on how Black youth are seen as potential criminals and thus as a threat. Replacing “they” with “we” in the title indicates the crucial perspectival shift—the works on show bring into focus the artists’ lived realities as subject of their own art. Amounting to over 200 pieces, the artworks are grouped into six distinct thematic categories entitled “The Everyday,” “Joy & Revelry,” “Repose,” “Sensuality,” “Spirituality,” and “Triumph and Emancipation.”
This multifaceted special exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart introduces viewers to figurative painting by Black artists from Africa and the African diaspora dating from the 1920s through the present. Sound stations and atmospheric staging provide complementary contextual elements as aids to interpretation. A multilayered series of public programs designed in collaboration with external partners provides additional approaches to the exhibition.