Unearthing the past, present and future of the Studio Museum’s permanent collection, Seeds and Roots digs deep into our garden of artful delights. Organized by SMH Chief Curator Thelma Golden and Curatorial Assistant Rashida Bumbray, this exhibition takes its inspiration and title from Chris Ofili’s graphite drawing, Roots (2001). This work has become a metaphor for the Museum’s rich collection as it has germinated, taken root, sprouted and grown in many directions through generous gifts, acquisitions and loans over the past 30 years.
From the collection’s oldest work, Portrait of Sarah Maria Coward (c.1804), by Joshua Johnson – the first known African-American artist in America to earn his living as a professional portrait painter—to recent acquisitions by artists such as Samuel Fosso, Mickalene Thomas and Eric Wesley Seeds and Roots is a testament to the Museum’s longstanding commitment to the presentation of diverse works by Black artists at different points in their careers.
The roots of the collection stem from the classic, iconic works by African- American artists, including Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, Betye Saar and Hale Woodruff, while works by artists in the Residency program continue as germinating seeds for the collection.
The theme of nature is explored throughout Seeds and Roots. From Benny Andrews’ colorful Trees of Life (1966), to Tracey Rose’s Venus Baartman (2001), a depiction of the Garden of Eden, to David Hammons’ sculpture, Untitled (2000), an installation of cardboard boxes printed with “Made in the People’s Republic of Harlem,” the organic nature of the collection takes on many different aesthetic permutations in this exhibition.
Seeds & Roots is presented during a critical moment at the Studio Museum as we expand below this gallery to construct new permanent collection galleries (opening in spring 2005), to enhance the presentation of our ever-growing collection. This new space will allow our audiences intimate access to the collection, its treasures and its evolution.
From the Artist-in-Residence 3rd floor studios, to the mezzanine gallery where their annual exhibition is installed, to the diversity found in Seeds and Roots, to the expansion into our new space, The Studio Museum in Harlem continues to be a nurturing home of artistic cultivation and growth for Black visual producers.