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Sankofa: African Routes, Canadian Roots

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MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY AT UBC, Vancouver BC – Nov 4, 2021 – March 27, 2022

Stephen Tayo, Ibeji Project, 2019, photo.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

by Michael Turner

Sankofa is a word from the Akan language in the region known as Ghana. Though it translates in English as “go back and get it,” it has, via the scholarship of Ghanaian anthropologist Wazi Apoh, entered the larger African and Black diasporic lexicon as a process term, sankofatization, which means “to move forward while looking back and, in doing so, achieve rebirth.” For co-curators Nuno Porto (MOA), Nya Lewis (BlackArt Gastown) and Titilope Salami (UBC PhD candidate), rebirth in this instance manifests in an exhibition dedicated to relationships between traditional and contemporary African art and Black Canadian contemporary art.

The exhibition features 30 works by 16 emerging and established artists from Vancouver, BC, and Lagos, Nigeria, placed alongside more than 100 works from the MOA collection. These works, in turn, are organized into nine thematic categories: recognition, remembrance, reconnection, restoration, reparation, reclamation, restitution, return and reconstruction. These groupings are further organized into sections dedicated to wealth, devotion to orisha (spirits in the Yoruba religion), Islam, Christianity, looting and repatriation. Pride of place is given to an undated Asante wood carving of a sankofa bird (itself a symbol of pride) by an artist whose name went unrecorded.

Nigerian artists participating in Sankofa are Jelili Atiku, Victor Ehikhamenor, Peju Layiwola, Onome Olotu, Onosanya Onolaja and Stephen Tayo; Vancouver artists are Berlynn Beam (Black Arts Vancouver), Michèle Bygodt, Chantal Gibson, Odera Igbokwe, Chase Keetley and Nya Lewis. Artists drawn from the collection include Yinka Adeyemi, Yekini S. Atanda, Z.K. Oloruntoba and Roodley Jeune.

moa.ubc.ca