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Episode #74: Touching Roots: Curator Martina Tanga

This past week we hit a milestone for our podcast - the first installment of our very first interview series! In the past, we have typically done one-off episodes and interviews covering a different topic or artist each episode. For this series, we centered our lens around an exhibition currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, titled Touching Roots: Black Ancestral Legacies in the Americas.

This first segment is an interview with MFA curator Martina Tanga, as she walks us through the gallery for our first long look at the exhibiton. Martina was our original point of contact for this story, and she spoke with us for nearly an hour, giving us an in-depth tour of the work. After speaking with her, she connected us with some other members of the curatorial team, Chenoa Baker and Kyrah Malika Daniels, and a handful of contemporary artists featured in the exhibition, Ifé Franklin, Brian McFarlane, Stephen Hamilton, and Karen Hampton.

After a month of recording and a few weeks of post-production, our coverage of Touching Roots has left us with a total collection of seven interviews, which we will be releasing in the order that they were recorded. This has been a beautiful learning experience for us, both in terms of the rich content of the interviews and the process of approaching a project as in-depth as this one.

LEFT: Loïs Mailou Jones, Ubi Girl from Tai Region, 1972 | Acrylic on canvas. The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund. © Loïs Mailou Jones Pierre-Noel Trust.

"Africa is at once a point of origin and a myriad of associations—real and imagined—for many Black artists working in the Americas. In the 20th century, some artists self-consciously responded to writer and philosopher Alain LeRoy Locke’s call to engage with “those ancestral arts.” Others continued to practice African artistic traditions passed down through generations.

This exhibition traces narratives of Blackness across the Atlantic world by bringing together work from artists who absorbed and reinterpreted African artistic practices, sacred customs, and cultural expressions. The artworks honor ancestral spirits and Black legacies through painting, sculpture, textiles, and dance. Artists from throughout the Americas are represented—with a special focus on those from or working in New England, like Allan Rohan Crite, Napoleon Jones-Henderson, Ifé Franklin, Bryan McFarlane, Karen Hampton, and Stephen Hamilton. Highlights from the collection include Ubi Girl from Tai Region (1972) by Loïs Mailou Jones, African Woman (about 1933) by James Richmond Barthé, Untitled (1943) by Wifredo Lam, and George Jackson (1971) by Kofi Bailey.

Visitors can explore how shared cultural heritages created connections that formed the basis of communities, highlighting the importance of Africa’s presence in the Americas. By turning their gaze inward and toward Africa, Black artists grounded their artistic expressions and infused strength and insight into their work.

This exhibition accompanies “Stories Artists Tell: Art of the Americas, the 20th Century,” a suite of galleries spanning place and time, and exploring different themes surrounding 20th-century art from the Americas."

Above: Aaron Douglas, Untitled, 1930 | Gouache on artist’s board. The John Axelrod Collection—Frank B. Bemis Fund, Charles H. Bayley Fund, and The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection. © Aaron Douglas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

This exhibition is included in General Admission. The Museum of Fine Arts Boston has a range of discounts for General Admission tickets, as well as an upcoming free ticket day on Sunday, October 30th. Check out the ticketing page at here for more information.

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