At 36, Smooth’s own career reflects the peripatetic and diasporic nature of the African arts scene. He grew up in Enugu, apprenticed under Anatsui, studied in South Africa and Atlanta, and has continued his scholarship and curatorial duties at Dartmouth where he’s the curator of African art at the universities Hood Museum. The crux of the paradox of contemporary African art is such: globalization versus ghettoization, a word “we want to refrain from using and that’s the basis of this exhibit. It’s the ‘burden of Africanness,’ which is what we call ghettoization,” he explains. “You don’t find markers that are “African” but there are mediated tendencies. You have to look for tropes that play in the market. The trope, or the burden, of Africanness is what collectors are looking for,” he continues. To a simple eye (or mind) those tropes are the familiar tribal masks, costumes, and other postcard-variety observations about “native” Africa.
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” exposes a current trend across much of African contemporary, works that “address those contexts of familiarity but at the same time transcend and consider the universal,” explains the curator. In opposition to the object- and photo-based works often seen on the auction block, painting is the show’s primary medium. Included are the psychologically complex oil paintings of Kenya-based Beatrice Wanjiku and Ivory Coast-born, Paris-based Gopal Dagnogo and the searing mixed-media collage of NGO logos by Kenya-based Sam Hopkins. There are also stunning photographic collages by Madagascar-born Amalia Ramanankirahina and haunting politically charged photographs by Algerian