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Two Free Panel Discussions Explore Issues Of Race, Gender, Art

Speakers to discuss themes related to Block exhibit, “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey”

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art is bringing “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey” off the gallery walls with two compelling panel discussions this November.

Northwestern faculty and staff, Chicago-based artists and prominent scholars will examine themes in Wangechi Mutu’s work, which is currently on display at the Block Museum. Each event is free and open to the public, in order to offer visitors a multi-faceted experience of the exhibition “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey,” which is open to the public through Dec. 7. (See below for full biographies of panel participants.)


• “Voyaging the Fantastic: Afrosurrealism and Afrofuturism in Wangechi Mutu and Contemporary Black Art,” 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1 at the Block Museum. Moderated by Northwestern African American studies faculty member Alexander Weheliye, this roundtable with preeminent Chicago-based artists will discuss Mutu’s work as a springboard to Afrosurrealism and Afrofuturism in contemporary black art. The artists on the panel will be D. Denenge Akpem, Afrofuturist interdisciplinary artist and professor at Columbia College Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Krista Franklin; poet and visual artist who often explores Afrofuturism and Afrosurrealism in her work; and Ayanah Moor, associate professor in print media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Co-sponsored by Northwestern’s Department of African American Studies, the Black Arts Initiative, the Program of African Studies and African American Student Affairs.

• “Deploying and Shattering Stereotypes,” 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12 at the Block Museum. Joy Bivins, curator, Chicago History Museum and organizer of the recent exhibition, “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair”; Maud Lavin, faculty member and cultural historian, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and Kathleen Bickford Berzock, the Block’s associate director of curatorial affairs and an expert on African art, will explore Wangechi Mutu’s work as a starting point for considering and challenging stereotypes around women and the body, blackness, and what it is to be African. Co-sponsored by One Book One Northwestern, Northwestern’s Women’s Center, the Program of African Studies and African American Student Affairs.


“Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey” is the first U.S. survey for Wangechi Mutu, a contemporary African artist and sculptor who has achieved great global acclaim for her works in a diverse range of artistic media. The exhibition was organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and will remain on view at the Block Museum until Dec. 7.

Mutu, who was born in Nairobi, Kenya, often explores issues of gender, race, war, globalization, colonialism and the eroticization of the black female body in her work. She is best known for large-scale collages depicting powerful hybrid female figures in lush, otherworldly landscapes. Many of her most iconic works are included in “A Fantastic Journey,” which features more than 50 works from the mid-1990s to the present.


Alexandar Weheliye is professor of African American studies at Northwestern University where he teaches black literature and culture, critical theory, social technologies and popular culture. He is the author of “Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity” (Duke UP, 2005) and “Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human” (Duke UP, 2014). Currently, he is working on two projects. The first, “Modernity Hesitant: The Civilizational Diagnostics of W.E.B. Du Bois and Walter Benjamin,” tracks the different ways in which these thinkers imagine the marginal as central to the workings of modern civilization. The second, “Feenin: R&B’s Technologies of Humanity,” offers a critical history of the intimate relationship between R&B music and technology since the late 1970s.

D. Denenge Akpem is an Afro-Futurist space sculptor, performance artist, designer, writer, and educator whose award-winning work bridges the disciplines of interior design, site-specific sculpture, public art practice and science fiction. She creates interactive spaces that interrogate stereotypes and is concerned with issues of incarceration and liberation, both physical and metaphoric. Denenge developed the course \"Afro-Futurism: Pathways to Black Liberation\" and has taught at Columbia College Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as conducting community-based artworks, including the South Side Community Art Center and Young Women's Leadership Charter School in Bronzeville.

Krista Franklin is a poet, visual artist and performer who lives and works in Chicago. Much of her creative output involves the intersection of the literary and the visual, and often explores concepts related to Afrofuturism and Afrosurrealism. Franklin is the recipient of the Chicago’s Community Arts Assistance Program Grant, the Albert P. Weisman Award, and Columbia College Chicago’s Aiko Fellowship. She has held residencies at Cave Canem, A Studio in the Woods, and Arts + Public Life/Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at University of Chicago. Franklin holds an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Columbia College Chicago.

Ayanah Moor is associate professor in print media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her creative tools include drawing, performance, print media and video. Moor’s work has been featured in “Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality and Blackness,” and “What is Contemporary Art?” She has held artist residencies at Proyecto ‘ace (Buenos Aires, Argentina); Auckland Print Studio (New Zealand); Vermont Studio Center, (Johnson, VT); Women’s Studio Workshop, (Rosendale, NY); Blue Mountain Center, (Blue Mountain Lake, NY); and Atlantic Center for the Arts, (New Smyrna Beach, FL). Moor holds a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and MFA from Tyler School of Art.

Joy Bivins is curator at the Chicago History Museum. As a native Chicagoan, Bivins is passionate about her city, its history and people, and she has used that passion to help develop diverse exhibitions, including “Chicago History in Pictures” (2002); “Teen Chicago” (2004); “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America” (2005); and “Colonia to Community: The Southeast Side” (2006). Most recently, Bivins co-curated “Facing Freedom,” an exhibition that examines conflicts over the meaning of freedom in U.S. history. Bivins is a regular presenter at local elementary and high schools, and she has also taught courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She holds a M.P.S., Africana Studies from Cornell University (2003) and a B.A., History and Afro-American and African Studies from the University of Michigan (1998).

Maud Lavin is professor of visual and critical studies and art history, theory and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her most recent book is “Push Comes to Shove: New Images of Aggressive Women” (MIT Press, 2010 hardcover; paperback and Ebook, 2012). Lavin is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an N.E.A. grant, and a Senior Research Residency at Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, among other awards, for her writings on genders, sexualities and cultures.

Kathleen Bickford Berzock (Ph.D., art history, Indiana University, 1995) is associate director of curatorial affairs at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, where she provides artistic leadership of the museum’s exhibition program and collection strategy. Berzock has a strong interest in museum practice and history, particularly in regard to African art. She was curator of African art at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1995–2013 where she presented internationally acclaimed exhibitions, including “Benin—Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria” (2008) and “For Hearth and Altar: African Ceramics from the Keith Achepohl Collection” (2005). She was also research assistant for African art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1993-1995). She is co-editor (with Christa Clarke) and contributor to the volume “Representing Africa in American Art Museums: A Century of Collecting and Display” (2010).


The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art is the Northwestern University’s art museum. It serves the academic and cultural needs of the University and community with thought-provoking exhibitions, a rich and diverse permanent collection, and dynamic educational and cultural programming.

The Block currently has two exhibitions open in its galleries for fall: “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey,” which runs through Dec. 7, and “Ecological Looking: Sustainability and the End(s) of the Earth,” which runs through Nov. 30. Admission is free and open to all.

For more information, visit


A long-term construction project on Northwestern’s south campus has limited access to the Block Museum and Arts Circle Drive. Parking is always free after 4 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends in the lot directly south of the museum. For directions and additional parking information, visit

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