Redemption Song

Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue from the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr., NMAfA Washington, DC, November 9, 2014 – January 24, 2016

 This article was written and posted in November 2014.  Therefore it does not take into account later revelations relating to the allegations about Bill Cosby and the court deposition and arraignment of Cosby.

Simmie Knox, oil on canvas, 1990. Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. CollectionBill and Camille Cosby, their friends and associates, the living artists whose work they have collected, their art advisor David Driskell, and NMAfA director Johnetta Coles are an integral part of the African American visual arts community. 

Aida Muluneh, Ethiopia  Spirit of Sisterhood  2000  Cibachrome print National Museum of African ArtAfter the Conversations exhibition’s November 9 opening, this close-knit community witnessed on-going, sexual assault allegations made about Bill Cosby. And now there are calls in major media for the Smithsonian to distance itself from the Cosbys, remove the Cosby-owned works from the show or even close it entirely.  These calls are being made by journalists who can not be expected to have the same regard for the art that we do — this art that is not only an integral part of our history and culture but also reflects many close, personal associations that we have with the artists, the collectors, and the curators.  We are family.

Elizabeth Catlett, The Family 1983–84, Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. CollectionSenufo artist, Côte d’Ivoire Male and female figures Mid-20th century Wood Smithsonian National Museum of African ArtWe find the allegations made about Bill Cobsy deeply troubling.  We also are concerned about the undeserved slights of the collection and the questions about whether the exhibition should be allowed to continue.

For example, a writer in The Atlantic suggested that "the Smithsonian could offer to strike the Cosbys’ name from the show. Pull down the Simmie Knox portrait of the couple that makes them look like modern-day Medicis. Scrub the word “Cosby” from the walls.... It would no doubt lead to the show collapsing."

An ArtNet writer compared the Smithsonian’s situation to that of NBC and Netflix which have pulled the plugs on Cosby projects in an article entitled “Should the Smithsonian Address the Bill Cosby Rape Allegation?”   Pulling the Cosbys' 62 works from the show would leave a gaping hole in it, the writer observed. But she went on to ask whether in “failing to address the allegations, is the Smithsonian doing the artists (emphasis added) in the show more harm than good?”  

It's incredulous to think that the allegations about Cosby and the Smithsonian’s lack of response to the allegations could harm the artists themselves!  Tanner's reputation would be besmirched?  Living artists represented in the collection such as the Crossroads Quilters, Margo Humphrey, William T. Williams and Keith Morrison would lose respect?  The market worth of their works would plummet?  Of course not!

On November 24, 2014, the National Museum of African Art responded to the media's calls with a statement that read, in part:  "We began planning for the Conversations exhibition two years ago to help showcase the history of American art created by persons of African descent. It brings the public’s attention to artists whose works have long been omitted from the study of American art history. We are aware of the controversy surrounding Bill Cosby, who, along with his wife Camille, owns many of the works in the Conversations exhibition. Exhibiting this important collection does not imply any position on the serious allegations that have been made against Mr. Cosby. The exhibition is centrally about the artworks and the artists who created them."

The exhibition is organized around “conversations” — selections from the Cosby collection shown in visual dialogue with selections from the NMAfA’s collection and some of these juxtapositions remind the viewer of the paradoxes between the controversies and events in the Cosbys' lives.  For example the pairing of two large Senufo figures with Elizabeth Catlett’s The Family sculpture.  

Henry O. Tanner, The Thankful Poor  1894 Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.This pairing alludes to the prodigious effort that the Cosbys have made to affirm their marriage through the acquisition of art. The Family sculpture is among the works of art the Cosbys commissioned to specifically symbolize that bond.  The African pieces symbolize the value of marital fidelity, particularly as  expressed in the female figure’s hairstyle.  The hairstyle takes the form of a hornbill bird’s beak and we learn from the exhibition curator that “hornbills are favored imagery among the Senufo because of the birds’ natural habit of forming pairs and showing devotion while hatching eggs and raising young birds.” 

Gerard Sekoto, South Africa, Boy and the Candle 1943 National Museum of African Art

In a tribute of devotion to their family, the Cosby’s commissioned the Catlett sculpture (shown above): a mother and a father figure in an embrace, with profiles of children incised on the side of the work. Tributes to the Cosby’s marriage in their collection also include Faith Ringgold, Camille’s Husband’s Birthday Quilt (1988) depicting them as a loving couple. The Ringgold piece also is on view in the exhibition. Now the symbolism of these pieces seems contradicted by the behavior of Bill Cosby that is alleged by his accusers.

The Thankful Poor (paired in the exhibition with a painting by pioneering South African modernist Gerard Sekoto) also is instructive within a larger context of understanding the “family” nature of the visual arts community, its shared concerns, and its relation to the Cosbys.

The Thankful Poor and The Banjo Lesson in the Hampton University collection are Tanner's two most well-known and beloved paintings.  Both the Cosbys and Hampton University president William R. Harvey have been castigated by museum curators and art lovers for refusing requests to loans these works to major exhibitions.  Harvey views his role as being a staunch custodian of this jewel in the university museum’s collection.  

David C. Driskell, Benin Head  c. 1978, Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.   Edo artist, Benin kingdom court style, Nigeria,  18th century,  National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution Some of the university’s friends and supporters however believe that the collectors should participate in the larger art discourses formed by major museum exhibitions.  By showing key works relating to an artist or theme in a major exhibition, the art historical record is made more complete and the lustre of the individual lenders is also increased. 

This is a family debate that has good rationales on both sides.

At the gala held during the Conversations exhibition opening, Dianne Whitfield-Locke, a major, Washington, DC-area collector, mentioned to Camile Cosby that she believed that The Thankful Poor should have been loaned to Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, the major, traveling exhibitiion organized by Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  

David C. Driskell The Green Chair From the America series 1978 Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.  Diplomatically deflecting the comment, Camille Cosby told Whitfield-Locke that an X-ray of The Thankful Poor has revealed beneath the pigments, a drawing that appears to be a study for the Banjo Lesson — a very significant bit of information for art historians!  

The interconnected aspect of these visual arts community relations is extensive. William R. Harvey and Driskell have a long association that began with Driskell mentoring Harvey and his wife as fledgling collectors in the late 1960s.  David Driskell recounted the story about how Camille Cosby acquired The Thankful Poor as a Christmas present for her husband during a April 2014 talk at the Hampton University Museum.  Dianne Whitfield-Locke has a close association with Hampton and Driskell. The Cosbys, the Harveys, the Driskells, Dianne and Carnell Whitfield-Locke and other celebrants at the Conversations exhibition opening, and Johnetta Coles are a part of a nexus of relations that stretches to everyone who is reading this article and beyond. The unfavorable media responses to the exhibition strike a nerve in this community (that also includes non-black collectors and art professionals who specialize in African American art). One assertion is that the selections from the Cosby collection pale in comparison with the African pieces in the show.

Criticism of the Exibition — Views From Outside and From Within 

Varnette Honeywood, Precious Memories 1984 Collage Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. The 62 selections on view in the exhibition from the Cosbys' collection of more than 300 works provide a representative cross-section of the collection but not necessarily a definitive one. 

One of the exhibition’s main dialogues centers on family and the domestic sphere and includes Precious Memories, a collage by Varnette Honeywood (whose painting of a family birthday celebration was hung on the living room set of the Cosby show); the Hanging Out to Dry painting by Bill and Camille Cosby’s daughter, Erika Ranee; quilts by Camille Cosby’s mother and grandmother; and a commemorative quilt made in memory of their son, Ennis, who was shot and killed by a stranger in 1997.

In his November 10 Washington Post review, at critic Philip Kennicott said that the inclusion of the Cosbys' daughter’s artwork smacked of nepotism and both he and New York Times reviewer Holland Cotter felt that the African American works on view, as a whole, are lacking in visual power, political clout and contemporary relevance.

Catherine Hanks, 1922, United States  Quilt  1996, Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.In his mostly favorable commentary, Cotter’s one reservation about the Conversations exhibition is that it “seems sentimentally frozen in time” and it raises the question of how effectively the (African American created) work would play on its own, without the electrifying stimulant of African art around it."  Kennicott took that assertion much further; his review is entitled “Museum’s African art outshines Cosby’s African American Art.”   

Crossroads Quilters  Port Gibson, Mississippi  The Ennis Quilt  1997 Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.Literary and cultural critic Stephen Henderson’ concept of the “mascon” is useful in understanding these critical assessments.  Appropriating the mascon concept from the NASA term meaning the “massive concentration” of matter beneath the lunar service, Henderson used it to mean “a massive concentration of black experiential energy” in his book, Understanding the New Black Poetry.  He cited vernacular expressions from black songs and said white critics of black folks song would call these expressions “cliches.” 

Gilbert “Bobbo” Ahiagble, Ewe artist, Ghana Man’s wrapper Late 20th century. National Museum of African Art,Henderson went on to say that the experiential energy — the "masons" of the vernacular expression is lost to the outsider, so consequently all that he can sense is the “outside,” the morphology of the term…. Black people have used these expressions over and over because they are deeply rooted in an apparently inexhaustible reality, in the case, a highly compressed secular/sacred experience."

If he were living today, Henderson would exempt Cotter (who has looked at, and astutely interpreted, a lot of work by African American artists) from this totally clueless “outsider” category however even Cotter does not bring to looking at quilts the mystical regard that rural-North-Carolina-born John Biggers had for them.  

Quilts have become an intensive mascon of African American culture that is reflected in the many forms of visual art, literature and folklore, architecture, fashion and interior design, academic scholarship about them or inspired by them.

In this exhibition, the mascon energy of the quilts is considerably intensified by their association with three generations of Bill and Camille Cosby family members.  African American-made quilts also resonate strongly with the patterns of African weaving and some include kente cloth, mud cloth, or African or African-inspired print fabrics.   

Romare Bearden, Sitting In at Barron’s Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. In addition to quilts, other African American cultural “mascons” include the southern rural landscape, the northern urban street scene; and jazz and the people, places and things associated with this music. Works in the show expressing these and other mascons represent an historical Mbala artist, Democratic Republic of the Congo Male figure Late 19th to early 20th century, National Museum of African ArtAfrican American cultural narrative portrayed by master storytellers. It's unreasonable to rank this narrative as less powerful than one comprised by work by contemporary African American artists or by African artists, past or present.   

Henry Ossawa Tanner, United S  Study of an Arab  1897  Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. Holland Cotter's remark about the “electrifying stimulant of African art” and its comparitve lack in the African American art works may owe to a lesser sensitivity to African American mascons and to less recognition of other implicit meanings in this art.  The works of African American artists seem more “charged” when viewed from a perspective informed by an insider's knowledge — and more charged in their own ways, not in African ways (although there are relations between African and African American forms). Consider, for example the pairing of Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Study of an Arab with the sculpture of a head by Yoruba artist Alamide.

One of the reasons why this little-seen Tanner painting has a striking, strong charge is because it adds to the known body of Tanner’s depictions of dark-skinned people of African ancestry.  During a period when African American artists struggled for recognition and support, Tanner mostly produced work without black subjects.  Even the human subjects in his Tangiers etchings are tiny figures that pale next to the exotic gates and imposing architecture depicted in these scenes. Tanner's Study of an Arab is a marvelous revelation of the artist's interest in the black African figure.

In explaining the pairing of this painting with the Alamide head, the exhibition text says that Alamide places a fez-type hat on the figure “to portray an Islamic northerner, one of the characters featured in some gelede performances— masquerades that honor and placate the powerful and Alamide, Nigeria  Gelede mask  1925–50, National Museum of African Artpotentially dangerous capacities of elderly women.”

This gelede information is a fantastic affirmation of the "Big Moma" mascon in African American culture.  We are familiar with the allegedly “dangerous” powers associated with women elders that were demeaned in the old witch myth.  But knowing that the geledes honor these women for their powerful capacities is much-needed understanding for people in Western societies that caricature mature women as “grannies” — benign and often a bit dotty. Tyler Perry plays the loving, powerful and dangerous (if you mess with her) powers of M'Dear to perfection!

This pairing also is significant in symbolizing the connections of West Africans and African Americans with North Africans.

Erika Ranee Cosby Hanging Out to Dry 1991, Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. Photograph by Frank Stewart, permission courtesy of the artistJohannes Phokela, South Africa Cuts 1990 National Museum of African ArtOf Erika Ranee Cosby’s Hanging Out to Dry painting, Philip Kennicott said “It isn’t bad, and in some ways feels of a piece with some of the other Cosby collection works, which push gently in an expressionist direction without ever crossing any lines of decorum.”  A more culturally informed look at the painting yields a more vigorous meaning. Erika Ranee Cosby explains that this painting depicts the scarcity and plight of the black doll: "The positioning of the dolls hanging from a clothesline, in an upside-down trajectory as they are suspended in perpetuity, suggests an uncertain future status.  The expressionistic paint rendering and predominant use of red are a visceral interpretation of the persistent and relentless distortion of black imagery in our culture.” The black doll is a way that African American mothers cultivate their daughters' appreciation for the beauty of darker skin tones, full features and curly hair against the many onslaughts snipping away at this appreciation. 

Hanging Out to Dry is on view in the exibition's "Power and Politics" section which includes South African artist Johannes Phokela's Cuts, shown here.

The “dialogues” between the works of African American and African artists and makers can be heard and “read” in many ways. 

Jacob Lawrence, Blind Musician 1942, Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. The media reports that critcize the show because museum exibitions increase the market value of works from private collections has little relevance to this show.  Excepting the craft works (quilts), much of the Cosbys' collection represents the most exceptional works of long-acknowedged master artists with well-established, high, market value.  Also, it's standard practice for museum curators  organizing large exhibitions to borrow from private collectors to round out themes or periods or fill in other gaps in the exhibition.

The Conversations exhibition is also notable because of all of the little-seen masterpieces it brings to light.

 Robert Colescott Death of a Mulatto Woman 1991 Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. Even art lovers who have seen large collections and publications of works by Jacob Lawrence, including the two-volume catalog raisonne, are delighted to see unfamiliar paintings by the artist in this exhibition. 

Alma Thomas’s stunning Sunset is unfamilar to viewers who have seen much of her outstanding work.

Aaron Douglas, Crucifixion 1934 Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. Holland Cotter's "frozen in time" assessment of the Cosby collection, echoed by Kennicott, makes it the peculiar, special burden of the African American collector to represent the entire swath of African American art, including the burgeoning contemporary scene, not just the niche that reflects the collector’s tastes, focused collecting plan (in the Cosby's case: 19th and 20th century masters), time and budget.  The “time” aspect is critical.  Generally, private collectors' acquisitions slow in later life and priority is given to ensuring the legacy of the collection, not acquiring more work to contemporize it. Whitfield Lovell and Michael Cummings are among the younger artists represented in the Cosbys' 62 works on view; their work respectively reflects the Cosby's interest in education, jazz and quilting.

Skunder Boghossian, Ethiopia, Devil Descending 1972 National Museum of African ArtAmong the NMAfA works, it's a revelation to see Skunder Boghassian’s Hallucination, a painting that is not in the artist’s more well-known style.  Boghassian's more familiar style is brilliantly exemplied in Devil Descending which also is in the show.  

Skunder Boghossian, Ethiopia, Devil Descending 1972 National Museum of African ArtThese are a few among the many reasons why Conversations is a significant exhibition of the work of African American artists in itself, and not just in its pairing with African art.  Church lady hats (a mascon) off to all involved in organizing the show including David Driskell, art historian Adrienne Childs, and NMAfA curators  Christine Mullen Kreamer and Bryna Freyer.

Redemption Song

The Cosbys and their close friends and associates undoubtedly have addressed the controversy privately among themselves.  There of course are no single, official voice or voices of the African American visual art community who should presume to make recommendations about this situation on behalf of us all. I offer the following remarks as an individual in an extended family of art — as a sister and an elder — not in an official or authoritative way, on behalf of this community.  

There is a forceful drive in men that has been very useful from ancient times when they had to hunt wild animals to feed their communities to their “conquering” space in the modern era. And it has taken the myriad forms that have ended in the conception of all of us. But this drive can veer off in all kinds of unfortunate directions with consequences from the routine, to the dalliances of powerful men like Bill Clinton, to the momentous, "chest-pounding" waging of war.  Sometimes it takes the form of the illness of sexual addiction.  Combined with market-driven greed, it has fueled the disproportionate emphasis on sex and violence in general media and demeaning, exploitative treatments of women in rap music and vidoes.

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, stars of the I Spy television show. Image via Jake's Rolex WorldBill Cosby loped into a swinging, 1960s L.A. Rat Pack/Hugh Hefner-type scene that exploited women in ways that were then tolerated and sometimes condoned but are now clearly abhorrent.  That Cosby was active on this scene and had extramarital encounters is not conjecture. This much we do know. We also know about his out-of-court settlement with one woman. The currect controveries in Cosby's life were brought on by behavior that appears to be very egregious but is of a magnitude that we cannot know with certainty. 

We have witnessed the on-going steam of prominent men (often with wives standing grimly by their side) whose extramarital affairs were exposed and discussed in minute, lurid detail in the media.  The number of men who have plied women with alcohol (a drug) to have sex with them is legion. The casting couch is the most worn down piece of furniture in the entertainment world. Only in recent years has date rape been discussed as the serious and criminal issue that it is. University administrations are still struggling to develop and enforce policy about date rape.

 What is exceptional about Bill Cosby's alleged behavior is not that it occurred — untold numbers of men repeatedly prey on vulnerable women and unless perpetuated by a stranger and causing physical injury, these assaults generally are not reported to authorities.

The foregoing considerations are in no way intended as a rationale to diminish the abominable nature of Cosby's alleged actions.  The intent is to establish a context for Cosby's alleged behavior and point out that he is a lightening rod attracting attention for a problem that not only needs to be discussed with regard to his own behavior but also within the context of this larger problem.  The larger problem is difficult to dissect and discuss because it's so entrenched within the culture and economy of this society.   

The Cosby sexual assault controversy sprouted “legs” which kept it going, because of the contradiction of Cosby’s persona as America’s favorite TV dad and as the sexual predator portrayed in the allegations about him.  Also there’s the appearance that Cosby is more concerned about defending himself than expressing concern about the general issue of date rape which the controversies about him have spawned.  He could express such concern without affirming allegations made against him which have not been, or can be, litigated.

The blame and shame accruing to Bill Cosby, the pain to his wife and family, and the damage to Cosby’s public image and career is a stiffer punishment than any that could have been meted out in a court of law.  

Mindful of all of this, a family would ask that their beloved relative get from under this suspicion and rebuke — put it to final rest — by making a sincere admission of contrition for whatever harm his any of his actions may have ever caused any one.  We all could make such admissions!   A family would not demand from him details of the behavior for which he expresses contrition.  His extramarital sexual encounters — be they few or many; simple dalliances or sexual addiction; of a non-criminal nature or criminal — are old actions.  His later life, in this regard, appears to have been circumspect.

Bill Cosby does not need to divulge the details of his former, private life in order to clear the air.  I believe our African American art community family would just ask for a genuine expression of contrition for whatever unnamed mistakes he feels that he has made.  

If he wanted to take contrition one step further, he could endorse initiatives to address complicated questions relating to the male sex drive that is inherent to nature  —  that is inherent to life — but that can easily veer off into sexual exploitation and violence.  But that extra step would not be necessary.  Any gesture of heart-felt contrition could redeem him in the public eye.

Cosby's towering efforts in education, the numerous scholarship awards to young people, and other philanthropic and humanitarian work, ultimately should be his greatest legacy. And I say this as a strong supporter of women's issues and in deep empathy for the women who say they were violated by Cosby. I say it because I have been chastened and helped towards enlightenment by persons such as parents who say they forgive the murderers of their children. Understanding the spiritual power of such forgiveness, we and Cosby's alleged victims should be prepared to accept a genuine expression of contrition from Cosby.

Redemption song.

The demeanor of a contrite Bill Cosby would likely grow lighter and he would be viewed as an outspoken, old head curmudgeon with much cautionary wisdom and humor to share, not as a grumpy old man.  And he and Camille would be commended, without reservation, for their outstanding achievement in collecting, researching, conserving and exhibiting African American master works of art beyond the taint of controversy because that controversy will have lost its “legs.”

— Juliette Harris

Full Artwork Details And Credits

 Gilbert “Bobbo” Ahiagble 1944–2012, Ewe artist, Ghana Man’s wrapper Late 20th century Cotton, dyes 243.8 x 274.3 cm (96 x 108 in.) National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, museum purchase, 98-17-1 Photograph by Franko Khoury

Alamide  active c. 1925–50, Yoruba artist, Nigeria  Gelede mask  1925–50  Wood, pigment  20.9 x 19.1 x 33.3 cm (8 1/4 x 7 1/2 x 13 1/8 in.)  National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Ernst Anspach, 96-6-4  Photograph by Franko Khoury

Richmond Barthé  1901–1989, United States  Inner Music  1985  Bronze  58.4 x 23.5 x 27.9 cm (23 x 9 1/4 x 11 in.)   Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.  Photograph by Frank Stewart, permission courtesy of Samella Lewis 

Romare Bearden 1911–1988, United States Sitting In at Barron’s  1980 Collage on Masonite 100.8 x 75.5 cm (39 5/8 x 29 3/4 in.) Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. Photograph by Frank Stewart, © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian 1937–2003, Ethiopia Devil Descending 1972 Oil and mixed media on canvas 152.7 x 122.4 cm (60 1/8 x 48 3/16 in.) National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Basilio F. Ciocci in memory of Raimondo Ciocci and Elvira Maone Ciocci, 99-22-1 Photograph by Franko Khoury

Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian  1937–2003, Ethiopia  Hallucination  1961  Oil on canvas  99 x 63.6 cm (39 x 25 1/16 in.)  National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Merton Simpson in memory of Sylvia H. Williams, 96-14-1  Photograph by Franko Khoury

Robert Colescott 1925–2009, United States Death of a Mulatto Woman 1991 Acrylic on canvas 213.3 x 182.8 cm (84 x 72 in.) Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. Photograph by Frank Stewart

Erika Ranee Cosby born 1965, United States Hanging Out to Dry 1991 Shellac, oil, charcoal, pencil on canvas 183.3 x 212.8 cm (72 1/8 x 83 3/4 in.) Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. Photograph by Frank Stewart, permission courtesy of the artist

Crossroads Quilters  Port Gibson, Mississippi  The Ennis Quilt  1997  Collected scrap fabric, Ennis Cosby’s clothing  370.8 x 294.8 cm (146 x 116 in.)  Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.

David C. Driskell  born 1931, United States  Benin Head  c. 1978  Egg tempera on paper  19 x 19 cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)  Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.  Photograph by Frank Stewart, permission courtesy of the artist

David C. Driskell born 1931, United States The Green Chair From the Americana series 1978 Acrylic on canvas 101.5 x 61 cm (40 x 24 in.) Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.  Photograph by Frank Stewart, permission courtesy of the artist   

Aaron Douglas 1899–1979, United States Crucifixion 1934 Oil on Masonite 122 x 91.5 cm (48 x 36 in.) Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr Photograph by Frank Stewart, © Heirs of Aaron Douglas/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Edo artist, Benin kingdom court style, Nigeria  Commemorative head of a king  18th century  Copper alloy, iron  33 x 23.5 x 23.2 cm (13 x 9 1/4 x 9 1/8 in.)  National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn to the Smithsonian Institution in 1979, 85-19-16  Photograph by Franko Khoury

Catherine Hanks  born 1922, United States  Quilt  1996  Cotton fabric  122 x 210.8 cm (48 x 83 in.)  Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.  Photograph by Jerry Thompson 

Varnette Honeywood  1950–2010, United States  Precious Memories  1984  Collage  80.8 x 55.8 cm (31 3/4 x 22 in.)  Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.   Photograph by Frank Stewart, © Varnette P. Honeywood, 1984, permission granted by Varnette P. Honeywood Estate

Simmie Knox, 1990, oil on canvas. Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.

Jacob Lawrence, Street Scene, Harlem 1942, Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.

Mbala artist, Democratic Republic of the Congo Male figure Late 19th to early 20th century Wood 29.8 x 41.6 x 15.9 cm (11 3/4 x 16 3/8 x 6 1/4 in.) National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Walt Disney World Co., a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, 2005-6-186 Photograph by Franko Khoury 

Aida Muluneh  born 1974, Ethiopia  Spirit of Sisterhood  2000  Cibachrome print  101.2 x 76.1 cm (39 13/16 x 29 15/16 in.)  National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, museum purchase, 2004-3-1  Photograph by Franko Khoury

Jacob Lawrence 1917–2000, United States Street Scene, Harlem 1942 Gouache on board 55.3 x 75.5 cm (21 3/4 x 29 3/4 in.) Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. Photograph by Frank Stewart, © 2014 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Johannes Phokela born 1966, South Africa Cuts 1990 Acrylic and string on canvas 211 x 211 cm (83 1/16 x 83 1/16 in.) National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, purchased with funds provided by the Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program, 96-24-1 Photograph by Franko Khoury

Gerard Sekoto  1913–1993, South Africa  Boy and the Candle  1943  Oil on canvas  46.2 x 36 cm (18 3/16 x 13 1/4 in.)   National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, museum purchase, 2000-3-1  Photograph by Franko Khoury  Henry Ossawa Tanner  1859–1937, United States

Senufo artist, Côte d’Ivoire  Male and female figures  Mid-20th century  Wood  National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Samuel Rubin, 78-14-7 and 78-14-8. Photos: Franko Khoury  

Henry Ossawa Tanner   1859–1937, United States  Study of an Arab  1897  Oil on board  33 x 24 cm (13 x 9 1/2 in.)  Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.  Photograph by Frank Stewart

Henry Ossawa Tanner The Thankful Poor  1894  Oil on canvas  90.3 x 112.5 cm (35 1/2 x 44 1/4 in.)  Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.  Photograph by Frank Stewart 

Charles White  1918–1979, United States  Homage to Langston Hughes  1971  Oil on canvas  122 x 122 cm (48 x 48 in.)  Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. Photograph by Frank Stewart, © 1971 The Charles White Archives