PITTSBURGH, PA, April 01, 2024 – Art lovers, get ready: Three expansive cultural exhibits at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center (AWAACC) in Pittsburgh demonstrate once again AWAACC’s commitment to showcasing exceptional Black artists. In a city known for its superior museums, AWAACC shines as one of the largest cultural organizations in the country focused exclusively on the African American experience and the arts of the African diaspora. More than a museum or music venue, the Center is a place to celebrate human connection and Black artists.

Abebui Adekai: Proverb Boxes for a Life Well Traveled by Jacob Paa Joe, Jr., March 28 – April 7 | Victoria Gallery

Abebui Adekai: Proverb Boxes for a Life Well Traveled by Jacob Paa Joe, Jr., which runs from March 28 to July 7, 2024, in the Victoria Gallery, First Floor, is an introduction to the Ghanaian tradition of coffin art. The vibrant sculptural installation is by artist and master craftsman, Jacob Tetteh-Ashong, also known as Paa Joe Jr. Beginning in the 1950s in Ghana, the custom of abebui adekai – which in English means “proverb box” or “receptacle of proverbs” – is a specialized art form of building fantasy coffins that reflect the desires, hobbies and ambitions of the dearly departed. The coffins are whimsical and deliberate. They are shaped like a lion, an airplane or even Nike sneakers revealing the personality of the passed soul. Carved of wood and then elaborately adorned, the process of commissioning the vessel is communal. Families work with artists to find the best coffin for the focus of a multi-day “homegoing” or celebration of life.

The exhibit is also an interactive opportunity to witness the process of creating a traditional Ghanaian figurative coffin in Pittsburgh for the first time when Jacob Paa Joe Jr. presents a fantasy coffin of a rooster, inspired by August Wilson and his personal collection of rooster sculptures. In addition, miniature sculptural roosters will also be on display.

Additional Programming includes a curator led gallery talk and screening of Paa Joe & the Lion on Thursday, May 23, 6 p.m.

Xippi, Heritage, and Metamorphosis: Voices in West African Art, April 26 – July 7 | Claude Worthington Benedum Gallery

More visual art arrived at AWAACC on April 26 through July 7 in the Claude Worthington Benedum Gallery.  Xippi, Heritage, and Metamorphosis: Voices in West African Art features 12 artists with roots in six different countries in Western Africa including Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana. These contemporary artists’ styles are not united by anything other than the geography of their ancestors. Their methods and media range wildly from abstract painting, portraiture, to photography, multimedia installations and drawing. Each of these artists is inspired by their own experiences traveling and their visions of the world. By presenting them together, AWAACC does not attempt to lump them into one category or provide a theme. Instead, the exhibit celebrates each artist’s individuality and exceptional talent. It offers a fresh perspective on African art that could be considered contemporary yet may indeed point to futurism. The exhibit is curated by Janice Bond and organized by Kimberly Jacobs for the August Wilson African Cultural Center.

Featured Artists:

Adebayo Bolaji
Adama Delphine Fawundu
Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola
Austin Uzor
Badara Ndiaye
Greg Noire
Ify Chiejina
Jamal Ademola
Mia Ghogho
Modou Dieng
Ozioma Onuzulike
Tomiwa Arobieke

“I am thrilled to unveil an exhibition that transcends borders and expectations, inviting audiences to immerse themselves in the vibrant tapestry of West African creativity,” Curator Bond.   “The intention is clear: to showcase the rich cultural heritage and dynamic evolution of art from Dakar to Nigeria, from Ghana to beyond. With each stroke of color and texture, these artworks speak volumes, echoing the voices of their creators and the stories of their ancestors. Our excitement lies in the opportunity to challenge preconceived notions and offer a fresh perspective on African art, one that embraces futurism and celebrates individuality. We aim to ignite curiosity and spark conversations, inviting viewers to journey beyond the confines of a singular narrative and explore the diverse expressions of West African artists. Through Xippi, Heritage, and Metamorphosis, we invite you to experience the transformative power of art, to witness the beauty of cultural exchange, and to celebrate the resilience and creativity of the human spirit.”

Mikael Chukwuma Owunna: Limitless Africans, April 26 – July 7 | Yvonne & Christine Cook Family Regional Gallery

Nigerian American Mikael Owunna is one of Pittsburgh’s leading multimedia artists and a cultural ambassador. His exhibition, Limitless Africans, is a documentary photography series he amassed over six years featuring portraits of LGBTQ immigrants from 10 countries throughout Europe, North American and the Caribbean. A polyglot who speaks English, French, Igbo and Mandarin Chinese with an engineering degree from Duke University, Owunna’s artistic range is as vast as his language skills. From African inspired photography to performance art, music, dance and as the creative force behind two monographs, his work has been exhibited around the world. Locally Owunna is Co-founder and Executive Director of Rainbow Serpent, a Black LGBTQ non-profit that fuses contemporary art and technology in film, music and the performance arts. Owunna is the President of the City of Pittsburgh’s Public Art and Civic Design Commission and the Director of his own studio. Many of Owunna’s installations build on West African creation myths from Dogon and Igbo historical contexts. African cosmology is often addressed, as is the origin story of the Primordial Androgynous Blackness. His work is in the collections of art institutes such as Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Nasher Museum of Art and the Mississippi Delta Health Center. Limitless Africans is featured in AWAACC’s Cook Family Regional Gallery from now to July 7.

Limitless Africans is one of my most personal bodies of work as a queer Nigerian American artist. The series documents the experiences of 50 LGBTQ African immigrants in 10 countries and seeks to debunk the myth that it is “un-African” to be LGBTQ,” said Owunna. “By joining these contemporary narratives of the queer African diaspora with historical research into precolonial queer identities, the work serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of LGBTQ people on the continent and in diaspora. This series has traveled the world, including showcases at the Tate Modern (UK), but this is my first solo exhibition of Limitless Africans in my hometown. I am proud to be showcasing this series at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, and I can’t wait for the community to see the show.”

About August Wilson African American Cultural Center

Major support for AWAACC’s operations is provided by Richard King Mellon Foundation, Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Heinz Endowments, and the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD). AWAACC’s programming is made possible by generous support from its donors. For a complete list, please visit awaacc.org.

The August Wilson African American Cultural Center is a non-profit cultural organization located in Pittsburgh’s cultural district that generates artistic, educational, and community initiatives that advance the legacy of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson. One of the largest cultural centers in the country focused exclusively on the African American experience and the celebration of Black culture and the African diaspora, the non-profit organization welcomes more than 119,000 visitors locally and nationally. Through year-round programming across multiple genres, such as the annual Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, Black Bottom Film Festival, AWCommunity Days, TRUTHSayers speaker series, and rotating art exhibits in its galleries, the Center provides a platform for established and emerging artists of color whose work reflects the universal issues of identity that Wilson tackled, and which still resonate today. www.awaacc.org.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Carolyn McClair
(212) 721-3341 | Cmcclair@awaacc.org