President Jimmy Carter, President G.P. "Bud" Peterson, and distinguished guests from around the world joined Ivan Allen College Dean Jacqueline J. Royster on Thursday, May 17 to introduce a spectacular exhibition of African art and artifacts to Atlanta. The signature event of the College’s Africa Atlanta 2014 initiative, this exhibition is expanding perceptions of Georgia Tech as a catalyst for Atlanta’s global engagement and economic growth.
The exhibition, Kongo across the Waters, features more than 120 historic and contemporary pieces spanning more than five centuries. It is the first American museum exhibition to deeply explore the legacy of Africa’s Kongo culture and reveal cultural connections across multiple centuries and continents. The exhibition features loans from the Royal Museum for Central Africa that have never before been exhibited in the U.S., as well as significant archaeological discoveries from the Kongo diaspora, including colonoware pottery from a recent excavation at the Dean Hall Plantation in South Carolina. Also highlighted are recent works by Steve Bandoma, Edouard Duval Carrié, José Bedia, Renée Stout, and Radcliffe Bailey, contemporary artists who draw from the Kongo artistic tradition.
The inspiration and centerpiece for Africa Atlanta 2014, the cross-cultural perspectives evoked by the exhibition, by a companion international conference Africa Beyond Africa: The Future of Cultural, Social, and Scientific Research, and by an array of activities mounted by the College and nearly 50 partner organizations, are bringing a new dimension to the international profile of Atlanta and Georgia Tech.
In remarks to the more than 300 guests who attended the opening reception for the exhibition, Georgia Tech President Peterson highlighted the extraordinary collaboration of local, national, and international partners across four continents brought together by Dean Royster as part of the initiative.
“Africa Atlanta 2014 richly embodies Georgia Tech’s strategic commitment to support the economic development of our region and global engagement,” said President Peterson. “Through the work of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts and that of the many distinguished partners and sponsors of this initiative, we are helping to increase understanding of contemporary Africa and global, cross-cultural innovation bridging liberal arts and technologies.”
With a burgeoning middle class, a collective GDP on par with that of Russia and Brazil, and the world’s fastest growing youth population, Africa is an emerging global sociopolitical force and marketplace. Dean Royster views the initiative and exhibition as gateway opportunities for Atlanta and the Institute to build contemporary bonds, not only in the realms of arts and culture, but also in business and innovation, education, and global affairs including health and human rights.
“Geopolitically, Atlanta is at a critical location within the trans-Atlantic triangle of Africa, Europe and the Americas,” said Royster, who brought the exhibition to Atlanta. “We have a chance to reinvent what it means to be Southern due to continuously evolving relationships within that space and the richness of the diasporic communities that call Atlanta home — to be a pacesetting 21st-century city and a trans-Atlantic beacon.”
Numerous attendees at the reception expressed a new awareness of the Ivan Allen College and liberal arts at Georgia Tech. In addition to a tour of the exhibition, the reception included remarks by President Jimmy Carter, His Excellency Johan Verbeke, ambassador of Belgium to the U.S; Alexander Cummings Jr., executive vice president and chief administrative officer of the Coca-Cola Company who is a native of Liberia; Guido Gryseels, director general of the Royal Museum for Central Africa. The Honorable Kwanza Hall also spoke, announcing on behalf of the Atlanta City Council a proclamation recognizing Africa Atlanta 2014 “for bringing a new dimension to the city’s profile and engagement as an international city.”
President Peterson announced Beatrice Mtetwa as a recipient of the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage. The first woman to receive the prize, Mtetwa is a human rights attorney from Zimbabwe. The announcement of the prize during the premier event of Africa Atlanta 2014 highlighted the global affairs aspect of the initiative which includes upcoming activities focused on health and human rights. Mtetwa has fought against injustice and defended press freedom for more than 20 years. She has endured harassment and arrest as she has advocated for human rights, social justice and women’s equality and advancement.
Atlanta is the second leg of a four city tour for Kongo across the Waters. On view at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum from May 17 to September 21, public attendance on opening day this past Saturday was robust.
Africa Atlanta 2014 and the Kongo exhibition were introduced by Dean Royster, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and Belgian Consul Geneviève Verbeek during a press conference at City Hall in February which can be viewed here.
Kongo across the Waters is co-organized by the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, and is brought to Atlanta by the Georgia Tech Ivan Allan College of Liberal Arts with the support of sponsors including the Coca-Cola Company, the Georgia Tech Office of the Provost, the Consulate General of Belgium in Atlanta, AEC Trust, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Payne Fund.