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TO SEPT. 3
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From a distance, Nigerian artist Moyo Okediji’s The Dutchman (pictured) appears festive. Swirls, triangles, and squiggles of bright orange, blue, yellow, and purple pop from the canvas, inviting the viewer to experience its rhythm. But upon closer inspection, the painting turns out to be a visual interpretation of the Middle Passage. A body hangs upside down midcanvas, suspended in shark-infested waters; three perfect aqua-blue teardrops dot the cheeks of a woman whose hand is clutched by a pipe-smoking trader; and sharp color contrasts metaphorically break full bodies into pieces of people. Broken lines extend horizontally across the canvas and help turn the kaleidoscopic image into a quintessential depiction of the slave trade—it evokes discord, despair, and irony. Inspired by Robert Hayden’s poem “Middle Passage,” The Dutchman seems to invite spectators to get caught between its lines. In addition to Okediji, “Transatlantic Dialogue: Contemporary Art in and out of Africa” features 15 other artists who live or have lived between the lines that divide African and African-American—the space where African culture and identity are shared and preserved despite physical distance. Yoruba and other African aesthetics are featured in the works of African-Americans, while the works by Africans who visited America express an affinity for African-American art and history. “Transatlantic Dialogue”‘s 40 fascinating, diverse, and often stunning examples of this mutual appreciation and understanding are on view from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (to 8 p.m. Thursday to Thursday, Aug. 31), to Sunday, Sept. 3, at the National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Ave. SW. (202) 357-4600. (Nefretiti Makenta)