The Cleveland Museum of Art has announced that Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi will join the institution as its new curator of African art on August 1. Nzewi will oversee the care and development of the collection, research and advise on the acquisition of new works, and organize exhibitions.
“Smooth is an exceptional curator with a remarkably creative approach,” director William M. Griswold said. “He has distinguished himself in the field of African art by juxtaposing historical objects with modern and contemporary art from the continent, highlighting the dialogue between the past and present. We very much look forward to having him as a colleague in Cleveland, and to experiencing the ways that he will encourage our audiences to engage with historic and contemporary African art.”
Previously, Nzewi served as curator of African art at Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art, where he mounted a variety of exhibitions including “Eric Van Hove: The Craft of Art” (2016), “Ukaru: Ritual Cloth of the Ekpe Secret Society” (2015), and “The Art of Weapons: Selections from the African Collection” (2014). He is currently curating the exhibition “Feedback: Art, Africa, and the Eighties,” which will be on view at the Iwalewa Haus Museum at the University of Bayreuth and will travel to other venues including the Hood Museum starting in 2018. Prior to his employment at the Hood, Nzewi was a fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and a practicing artist and independent curator based in Nigeria. Nzewi has also cocurated major international exhibitions, including the 2014 Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar and the Eleventh Shanghai Biennale (2016–17). He has also taught at the University of Bayreuth’s Institute of African Studies, Dartmouth College, and Emory University, where he earned his Ph.D. in art history.
Cleveland’s African art collection includes three hundred works of tradition-based art from Africa south of the Sahara. The core of this collection was donated to the museum in the 1960s and 1970s by the late Cleveland collector Katherine C. White. It includes objects created by the Senufo people (Ivory Coast), the Yoruba people (Nigeria), the Benin Kingdom (Nigeria), and the Kwango-Kwilu region (the southwest region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo).