“States of Becoming” examines the dynamic forces of relocation, resettling, and assimilation that shape the artistic practices of a group of contemporary African artists working in the United States and informs the discourse on identity construction within an African diaspora.

“States of Becoming” grew out of curator Fitsum Shebeshe’s lived experience following his 2016 move from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Baltimore, and subsequent firsthand knowledge of the weight of cultural assimilation. Confronted with a different society, the curator encountered a wide range of existential questions that shaped his relationship to institutions and culture. Shebeshe also had the realization, for the first time, that he was viewed as belonging to a minority because of the color of his skin, and a newfound awareness of the profound impact Ethiopia’s traditional and conservative culture had on his personal sense of individuality.

Having found kinship among cultural practitioners from the African diaspora who shared his experience, Shebeshe has united 17 artists with “States of Becoming” who either came to the United States over the past thirty years or who are first-generation born. The artists represented here relocated from twelve countries in Africa and one in the Caribbean–Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe–with roots in cities across the U.S. including New York, Washington, D.C., New Haven, Detroit, and Los Angeles.

Like Shebeshe, each artist in the exhibition has had a unique relationship to the U.S. context, which is reflected in their work. “States of Becoming” explores these artists’ perpetual process of identifying, redefining, and becoming themselves in both local and global contexts, opening up perspectives into multiple states (both geographic and emotional) in a constant flux of social and cultural adaptations. The exhibition presents work across mediums—including painting, photography, sculpture, installation, and video—that express the many different ways in which identity is remade and reimagined. For instance, Nontsikelelo Mutiti looks to hair braiding salons of the African diaspora, and Amare Selfu moves from figuration to abstraction to express transformation as a result of relocation. These distinct experiences produce a sense of hybrid culture emerging out of real and imagined genealogies of cultural, racial, national, and geographic belonging.

take a virtual tour

Artists: Gabriel C. Amadi-Emina, Kearra Amaya Gopee, Kibrom Araya, Nadia Ayari, Vamba Bility, Elshafei Dafalla, Masimba Hwati, Chido Johnson, Miatta Kawinzi, Dora King, Helina Metaferia, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Yvonne Osei, Kern Samuel, Amare Selfu, Tariku Shiferaw, and Yacine Tilala Fall

“States of Becoming” is a traveling exhibition curated by Fitsum Shebeshe and produced by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York. Lead funding is provided by the Hartfield Foundation as part of an initiative to support ICI’s commitment to new curatorial voices who will shape the future of the field, and ICI’s Curatorial Intensive alumni as they move through the stages of their career. “States of Becoming” is made possible with the generous support of ICI’s Board of Trustees and International Forum. Crozier Fine Arts is the Preferred Art Logistics Partner.

The presentation at the Des Moines Art Center has been organized in collaboration with Senior Curator Laura Burkhalter.

Additional support for this exhibition is provided by:

Crozier Logo           Hartfield logo