Beyond Borders: Global Africa - University of Michigan Museum of Art

Beyond Borders: Global Africa 

August 11-November 25,


University of Michigan Museum of Art


Ann Arbor USA





Colonization, 2009

Cotton cloth, appliquéd

43 x 63 in. (109.2 x 160 cm)

Transfer from Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan, 2015/2.48

William Adjété Wilson, like so many artists in this show, cannot be easily classified by nationality or country. He was born in France, to a French mother and a father of West African descent. At the age of 18, he traveled to his paternal place of origin and began an exploration of his own, and his family’s history. Discovering that his ancestors stemmed from the infamous ‘Bight of Benin’ wherefrom millions of enslaved men and women were transported during the transatlantic slave trade, certainly made this a fraught experience.

In 2007-2008, this reflexive journey culminated in The Black Ocean; a series of eighteen fabric panels depicting the history of the early encounters between Europe and Africa, eventually leading to the slave trade, colonization, and the African diaspora. The panel Colonization explicitly depicts the exploitation of African peoples and the looting of the riches and wealth of the continent by European powers, identified by the flags depicted. A palm tree sprouts from the bounty, a symbol of the wealth and abundance that was taken from the continent, yet also of the resilience of its peoples. The colonial officer is closely followed by war, pollution, industrialization and death, all combined into a monstrous machine.

For his The Black Ocean series, Wilson collaborated with textile artists from Benin, who specialize in a method called appliqué where pieces of cloth are dyed, cut, and recombined - a tradition that dates back 500 years, when artisans were making similar textile tableaux to tell the history and the glory of the Kingdom of Dahomey. Much of the wealth of this kingdom was, in fact, due to its involvement in the slave trade.

This technique of creating collages out of fabric pieces, lends itself well to the story Wilson is trying to represent: just as textile artists weave together strands to create larger cloths and tapestries, Wilson is pulling together fragments of his personal, his family’s and the world’s histories, revealing the bewildering complexities of such narratives.

2018  | nc