/ Kruizenga Art Museum

Deep Roots, New Shoots

Modern and contemporary african art from the kam collection

January 12–May 18, 2024

This painting depicts a street vendor selling bottles of cooking oil at a  Zimbabwean street market. The thick paint and collaged stickers capture the colors and rhythms of contemporary life. 

As the era of European colonial rule in Africa came to an end during the 1950s and 60s, African artists in newly independent countries across the continent grappled with the question of how to make art that was both distinctly African and distinctly modern. Those artists wanted to create new forms of art that were rooted in indigenous African cultures and aesthetics, but also conversant with international styles and practices. The ways artists responded to these challenges varied greatly depending on their personal experiences and the broader historical experiences of the countries where they lived and worked. Thus, the development of modern art in Nigeria was quite different from the development of modern art in Ethiopia; likewise, Moroccan modern art evolved differently from South African modern art.

Over time, the new forms of modern African art became more firmly established in their home countries and more integrated into the international art world. African artists regularly traveled abroad to study and participate in workshops and artist residencies, and a significant number of them built careers that were split between Africa and the West. By the beginning of the 21st century, the question for many contemporary African artists was no longer how to make art that was both African and modern, but how to make art that was globally relevant and commercially viable in a highly competitive international art market. These concerns have driven many African artists in recent decades to produce works that address important transnational issues ranging from racism and gender inequality to environmental degradation and the impacts of global consumerism.

Modern and contemporary African art is too vast and complex to be adequately represented in a single exhibition. The artworks presented here offer only a small sampling of the types of artworks that have been produced by African artists over the past six decades. The Kruizenga Art Museum has collected these artworks as part of its mission to expose Hope College and the larger communities of Holland and West Michigan to a broad range of artworks that can help cultivate the qualities of empathy and understanding that are necessary to flourish in a global society.     

The museum is immensely grateful to all the donors whose gifts made this exhibition possible: Neal ’68 and Elizabeth Sobania; Bruce and Ann Haight; David Kamansky and Gerald Wheaton; Ronald ’62 and Gerri Vander Molen; Kate Rudy ’53; Roberta VanGilder ’53 Kaye; Judith Kingma Hazelton ’56; and Mary Vande Poel ’59. The museum is also grateful to student intern Liliana Fraser-Shade (2024), whose involvement in the exhibition was supported by the John H. Dryfhout ’64 Internship program, and to the Hope College Pan African Student Association. Finally, the museum is grateful to Neal ’68 and Elizabeth Sobania whose endowment for the Kruizenga Art Museum supported the publication of the accompanying exhibition catalog.    

Image: Cookoil pa Speed. Sky Salanje (Zimbabwean, b. 1992), 2022. Acrylic on canvas. Hope College Collection, 2023.28

View the Deep Roots, New Shoots exhibition and additional related artworks in the KAM collection database Download the Deep Roots, New Shoots exhibition catalog (PDF)