Exhibit celebrating African women opens at Rosa Parks Museum

Dr. Felicia Bell addresses audience during opening reception for

Dr. Felicia Bell addresses audience during opening reception for "Power and Beauty: Women in African Art," which will be on display until March 16.

A new exhibit celebrating African women and their artistic practices has opened at the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University’s Montgomery Campus.

“Power and Beauty: Women in African Art” from the Collection of Donald and Kaye Kole celebrates the variety and complexity of these experiences through representations of African women and their artistic practices. Focused primarily on historical African art forms and concepts, many of which were developed prior to the late 20th century, the exhibited works display the impact women have made historically in the sphere of African arts and culture.

The exhibit, which will remain on display until March 16, opened during a reception on Jan. 11.

“This exhibit, ‘Power and Beauty: Women in African Art,’ is an opportunity for us to engage our visitors to think critically about the impact of women on culture, art, religion and everyday life in Africa,” said Dr. Felicia Bell, the museum’s director. “All of the pieces in the exhibit are from the collection of Donald and Kaye Kole and all come from the continent. Mr. Kole was able to found an entire museum, the Savannah African Art Museum, solely based on his collection. That just goes to show how extensive his collection is. We had to select a theme for our exhibition, so we chose women because we celebrate the legacy of Mrs. Parks every day here at the museum.”

Dr. Kathryn Floyd, professor of art history, served as the guest curator for the exhibit.

“It is really difficult when you are talking about something like Africa, which is such a large continent,” Floyd said. “We are talking about millions of people in a place that is home to thousands of cultural groups. The people there speak thousands of languages. There are hundreds of different religious traditions, 54 contemporary nations and of course 600 million women who have diverse and varied experiences from political leaders down to women who live fairly traditional lives in rural culture. The problem when you are considering African art or women in African art is how do you represent something that rich and diverse in just a few objects. We hope that visitors will look at each of these objects as a doorway to greater knowledge.”

Many of the forms represented in the exhibition were intended to be worn, danced, handled, or displayed in living contexts and dynamic situations. Some are still in use in Africa today, while others have been replaced by contemporary forms.

Dr. Bell said Mrs. Parks’ interest in the injustice in Africa, especially dedicating her time to fighting South African apartheid, is another reason it is so fitting for the museum to host the exhibit.

“Mrs. Parks protested this racist and segregationist system with other human rights leaders in Washington, D.C. in 1984,” Dr. Bell said. “In 1990, Mrs. Parks helped welcome Nelson and Winnie Mandela to Detroit when they visited the United States after his release from prison. Mandela told Parks that she had sustained him during his long imprisonment. Today, people in Africa and around the world continue to look to the example of Rosa Parks and the American Civil Rights Movement in their ongoing struggles against injustice, inequity, and oppression.”

Donald Kole graduated from Boston University in 1952 and served in the US Army. In 1954, he joined his wife Kaye’s father in business at Savannah’s Bay Street Lumber Company. With his brother-in-law, he developed the chain Builderama and in 1986 founded Kole Management Company, a real estate investment and management company in Savannah.

“We are especially grateful to Donald and Kaye Kole for loaning a part of their collection for this exhibition,” Dr. Bell said. “Their generosity allows us to continue to engage our visitors in meaningful experiences and to expose them to key aspects of Mrs. Parks’ lifetime of activism.”

The exhibit is free and open to the public and is available for viewing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.