Bringing together the work of over 20 artists, and ranging across media from painting and sculpture to photography installation, video, and performance, The Progress of Love considers how technology, economic systems, and other forces have shaped—and continue to shape—ideas about love and their expression. In doing so, the exhibition seeks to ask what part of love is universal, what part is timeless, and what is a cultural construct.
Numerous scholars have addressed the ways media, technology, and capitalism have affected Western notions of love over the last few centuries. Little attention, however, has been paid to the impact of these forces on the conception of love in Africa, or even to the subject itself. The Progress of Love explores romantic love, self-love, friendship, familial affect, love of one’s country, and other bonds in and around the continent of Africa and the African diaspora. Though the exhibition is weighted towards art produced specifically about love in Africa, works that might otherwise be considered more “western” in orientation are included as well, calling attention to the global exchange through which such concepts develop, and to both the shared and distinct aspects of the experience of love.
Yinka Shonibare’s The Swing, 2001, calls attention to the way EuroAmerican notions of romantic heterosexual, monogamous love were brought into being through an increasingly globalized economy and reproductive technologies such as the printing press. Mounir Fatmi’s Connections (Conspiracy) of 2008, an installation of seminal Western and Arabic books wired together, speaks to the international circuits through which love travels, and of the transformative, sometimes even explosive, effects of the dissemination of religious and philosophical texts on ideas of the self and other. Artists such as Zoulikha Bouabdellah and Kendell Geers consider the effects of language—how one’s primary or secondary tongue affects the way one conceives of this dyad—and raise questions about the ability to be understood across a linguistic or cultural gap.
While many works in the show explicitly address the subject of love, others can be understood more indirectly as acts of love in their creation or in the experience they provide. Founded specifically for this exhibition, Romuald Hazoume’s nongovernmental organization (NGO) based in Cotonou, Benin, invites his fellow Beninois to express love for self and others by making contributions to Westerners in hopes of helping them live better lives. In so doing, he offers a critical reevaluation of charity and the intersections between love and money.
Accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue and a rich program of related events, The Progress of Love examines varied and ever-changing conceptions of love, pointing to the intercultural currents that inform them and in which they, in turn, inform. The project is co-curated by Kristina Van Dyke, begun when she was curator for collections and research at the Menil Collection, and Bisi Silva, director of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, and Susan Sutton at the Menil. Simultaneous Progress of Love exhibitions are mounted at both venues and at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis, where Van Dyke is now director. The exhibition’s three incarnations all contribute to the exhibition catalogue and are linked by the website Progress of Love.
A collaborative project of The Menil Collection, Houston, Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, and The Pulitzer Foundation, St. Louis
In Houston, this exhibition is generously supported by The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, St. Louis; Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Bill and Sara Morgan; David and Anne Kirkland; Mark Wawro and Melanie Gray; Michael Zilkha; Bérengère Primat; Clare Casademont and Michael Metz; Haynes Whaley Associates, Inc.; Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P; Gensler; Phillips de Pury & Company; proceeds from Men of Menil; Carriage Glass & Co.; and the City of Houston.
Photos: Paul Hester