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Insistent Presence by Contemporary African Art from the Chazen Collection

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Contemporary African Art from the Chazen Collection is set to present Insistent Presence on September 5th 2023, a collection of forty-five art pieces ranging from sculptures, paintings, ceramics, printmaking, and photography made by a total of twenty-four contemporary artists living and working in Africa and its diaspora. The exhibition, which will be concluded on December 23rd 2023; includes recent acquisitions facilitated by a significant five-year donation from the Straus Family Foundation.

PHILIP, 2019, inkjet print, 19 5/8 x 29 1/2 in, Image courtesy of Nana Yaw Oduro

The exhibition delves into the artists’ reimagination of the human figure as a means to question social and political histories, contested identities, and the potential evolution of human interactions. The title of the exhibition, Insistent Presence, was inspired by prominent African art scholars and curators Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu. They highlight the enduring significance of portraying the human form, both for artists affirming the humanity of Africans as well as those critiquing postcolonial governance. In this showcase, artists boldly explore the human body and offer a view of everyday life experiences contrasted with political issues.

The unconscious struggle, 2012, mixed media, 100 x 60 x 38 in, Image courtesy of Peju Alatise

The exhibition and its accompanying publication are divided into three main sections, all centered around the theme of the presence and absence of the human body. In the first section, “The Body in Society,” artists explore the concept of identity being molded through interactions between figures—whether alone or in groups. This reveals how the human form can be a tool to express personal and social identities. The second section, “The Artist Is Present,” focuses on artists who use their own bodies as the primary form of expression through mediums such as performances, photography, and sculptures to share their personal stories. The final section, “The Absent Body,” takes a different approach, using accessories to evoke mental images of the human body. Each section in Insistent Presence is an invitation to reflect on the modern ways of living, our relationships, and the world around us.

These artworks not only expand the museum’s collection, they also strengthen the connections between the University of Wisconsin–Madison and contemporary African artists and organizations.


Joy Adeboye is a creative writer and visual storyteller. She is a graduate of the Department of English and Literary Studies at Obafemi Awolowo University. She is currently a Writer for Art News Africa.

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