WASHINGTON -- news reports from Africa often depict images of war, disease and poverty, but the National Museum of African Art sees another picture -- a nude surrounded by flowers, religious symbols, a motorized, life-size metal girl who claps her steel hands every half-hour for a festival.
A unit of the Smithsonian Institution that deals with traditional African art, the museum strikes out in a new direction Sunday. It opens "Encounters with the Contemporary," a show of new work by Africans at home, in America and Europe.
Valente Malangatana painted the nude in 1962 in Mozambique, then torn by guerrilla revolt against Portuguese colonial forces. The museum says he is known for pictures that "poignantly depict the trauma of armed conflict and revolution." But there's no violence in the painting or in the love poem he wrote on the back of the canvas.
"His works also address the myths and customs of his youth," the museum says in describing the picture, "the small pleasures of daily life and the triumph of the human spirit."
Symbols of faith are prominent in the show. Alexander Boghossian, who teaches at Washington's Howard University, presents a brightly decorative version of the parchment scrolls that devout people wear as talismans in his native Ethiopia.
Mmakgabo Mmpula Sebidi, a South African who studied in the United States as a Fulbright scholar, is represented by a colorful drawing that celebrates the survival of the spirit over death.
Elizabeth Harney, the museum's new curator of today's art, said the show also will include accounts of Africa's troubled recent history.
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