Exhibition

Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room

November 5, 2021–Ongoing
Free with Museum admission

Introduction

In-gallery view of the Afrofuturist Period Room facing the Living Room section

Land Acknowledgment
As we remember and honor the community of Seneca Village, we also recognize that its site—as well as that of The Met—lies in Lenapehoking, ancestral homeland of the Lenape diaspora. Dutch and British settler colonialists began to displace and forcibly migrate the Lenape more than two hundred years before the destruction of Seneca Village, yet we note the historical erasure that connects both communities. We also respectfully acknowledge both the Lenape and Seneca Village descendants—past, present, and future—for their ongoing relationships to the region and their unalterable contributions to the life and rich heritage of this city.

Seneca Village—a vibrant nineteenth-century community of predominantly Black landowners and tenants—flourished in an area just west of The Met, in what is now Central Park. By the 1850s, the village comprised some fifty homes, three churches, multiple cemeteries, a school, and many gardens. It represented both an escape from the crowded and dangerous confines of lower Manhattan and a site of opportunity, ownership, freedom, and prosperity. In 1857, to make way for the park, the city used eminent domain to seize Seneca Village land, displacing its residents and leaving only the barest traces of the community behind.

This house has roots in the homes of Seneca Village, of which only a fragmented history remains. Like other period rooms throughout the Museum, this installation is a fabrication of a domestic space that assembles furnishings to create an illusion of authenticity. Unlike these other spaces, this room rejects the notion of one historical period and embraces the African and African diasporic belief that the past, present, and future are interconnected and that informed speculation may uncover many possibilities. Powered by Afrofuturism—a transdisciplinary creative mode that centers Black imagination, excellence, and self-determination—this construction is only one proposition for what might have been had Seneca Village been allowed to thrive into the present and beyond.

In keeping with the collaborative spirit of Afrofuturism, The Met’s curatorial team worked with lead curator Hannah Beachler, who envisioned and designed this space with consulting curator Michelle Commander. Since 2019, the group has engaged numerous creative and intellectual partners to infuse the installation with additional ideas and perspectives. Here, at a vital intersection at the heart of the Museum, this project opens a space for yet more histories to be told that look toward a more resilient future.


Introduction — Gallery Wallpaper

Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s work begins with a layer of photographic transfers. Her design for this gallery’s verdant backdrop combines images of the 1856 hand-drawn survey map of Seneca Village and nineteenth-century ambrotype portraits of Black New Yorkers, which are then juxtaposed with more contemporary images from the African diaspora. Overlaying this imagery is the lush foliage of an okra plant, a crop with nourishing power and potent symbolism. Originating in sub-Saharan West Africa and carried across the sea during the Middle Passage, okra embodies not only that brutal displacement but also the multitude of culinary and cultural traditions that have endured and thrived on American shores.

Selected Artworks

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Thriving and Potential, Displaced (Again and Again and...), Njideka Akunyili Crosby  Nigerian, Inkjet print on vinyl.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby (Nigerian, born Enugu, 1983)
2021

Kitchen and Hearth

Descendants of the gardeners, herbalists, and experimentalists of Seneca Village, the imagined residents of this home used their knowledge of technology, science, and magic to develop a means of time travel, which has allowed them to gather works of art from across time and space. This kitchen is the locus of these activities, centered around a large brick hearth that operates as the portal through which these objects enter the home.

Inside the fireplace is Roberto Lugo’s Digable Underground. Lugo is renowned for his vibrant reinterpretations of eighteenth- century European porcelain forms, which he reimagines through the lens of contemporary hip-hop culture and embellishes with graffiti and kente prestige cloth patterns. His works center the portraits of heroes whose visages do not often adorn fine porcelain or whose stories are too often absent from such luxurious wares. Here, nineteenth-century abolitionist Harriet Tubman faces the kitchen and contemporary singer-songwriter Erykah Badu looks into the living room; together, they reflect the ways that the kitchen acts as a site of temporal confluence—a merging of past and present into future possibilities.

Selected Artworks

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Churn, Wood; Probably cedar
1700–1800
Imbizo Stool, Chuma Maweni  South African, Carved glazed ceramic
Chuma Maweni (South African, born 1976)
2018–21
Imbizo Table, Chuma Maweni  South African, Carved glazed ceramic, carved and ebonized Kiaat wood
Chuma Maweni (South African, born 1976)
2018–21
Imbizo Stool, Chuma Maweni  South African, Carved glazed ceramic
Chuma Maweni (South African, born 1976)
2018–21
Umwonyo, Andile Dyalvane  South African, Glazed ceramic
Andile Dyalvane (South African, born 1978)
2019
Mollo Oa Leifo – Mme (“fire in the hearth – Mother”), Atang Tshikare  South African, Singed beech wood and rubber wood, woven grass, textile, bronze, and glass beads
Atang Tshikare (South African, born 1980)
2021
Mollo Oa Leifo – Ngoanana (“fire in the hearth – Girl”), Atang Tshikare  South African, Singed beech wood and rubber wood, woven grass, textile, bronze, and glass beads
Atang Tshikare (South African, born 1980)
2021
Portrait Cup: Zora Neale Hurston, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramics, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Portrait Cup: Mae Jemison, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramic, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Justice of Ezili, Fabiola Jean-Louis  Haitian, Paper, gold, Swarovski crystals, lapis lazuli, labradorite, brass, ink, and resin., American
Fabiola Jean-Louis (Haitian, born 1978)
2021
Plate: Stacey Abrams, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramics, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Plate: Beyonce, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramics, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Crown Ashtray (MLK), Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramic, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Digable Underground, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed stoneware, enamel paint, and luster
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021

Kitchen — West Wall

Selected Artworks

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Bottle (Kuttrolf), Glass, German
German
probably 17th century
Double flasks, Glass, probably German
probably German
18th century
Mortar and pestle, Brass, British or American
British or American
second half 18th century
Salt Box, Yellow pine, American
American
ca. 1850
In Sojourner Truth I Fought for the Rights of Women as well as Negroes, from “The Negro Woman” series, Elizabeth Catlett  American and Mexican, Linocut
Elizabeth Catlett (American and Mexican, Washington, D.C. 1915–2012 Cuernavaca)
1947
Hair Comb, India Rubber Comb Company, Vulcanite (India rubber and sulfur)
Manufactured by India Rubber Comb Company
Patented by Charles Goodyear (1800–1860)
ca. 1851
Portrait Cup: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramics, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Portrait Cup: Gabrielle Union, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramics, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Portrait Cup: Frederick Douglass, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramics, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Plate: Alma Thomas, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramics, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Grafitti Cup 4, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramic, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021

Kitchen — East Wall

Selected Artworks

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Bowl, Glass, Italian, Venice (Murano)
Italian, Venice (Murano)
18th century
Cruet, Glass, Italian, Venice (Murano)
Italian, Venice (Murano)
18th–19th century
Jar with cover, Glass, Italian, Venice (Murano)
Italian, Venice (Murano)
16th century
Pipe Box, Pine, American
American
1700–1800
Warming Pan, Brass, iron
1770–1830
Kettle, Iron
1700–1900
Covered Jar, Stoneware, American
American
1800–1900
Jar, Thomas W. Commeraw or, Stoneware, American
Thomas W. Commeraw (active 1796–1819) or
David Morgan (active 1797–1802)
1796–1819
Batter jug, Stoneware, American
American
1882–85
Shovel, Brass, steel
1770–1830
Crucifix, Brass, Kongo peoples
Kongo peoples
17th century
Reliquary glass, Glass, Italian, Venice (Murano)
Italian, Venice (Murano)
19th century
Miyale Ya Blue, Cyrus Kabiru  Kenyan, Steel and found objects
Cyrus Kabiru (Kenyan, born 1984)
2020
Tiger Ashtray (green), Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramics, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Tiger Ashtray (blue), Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramics, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Portrait Cup: Henrietta Lacks, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramics, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Portrait Cup: Horace Pippin, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramics, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Grafitti Truck Bowl 1, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramic, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Grafitti Truck Bowl 2, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramic, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Grafitti Truck Bowl 3, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramic, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Grafitti Truck Bowl 4, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramic, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Grafitti Cup 3, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramic, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Grafitti Cup 5, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramic, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021
Grafitti Cup 6, Roberto Lugo  American, Glazed ceramic, American
Roberto Lugo (American, born Philadelphia 1981)
2021

Living Room and Television

If the imagined residents of this house acquired works of art from across space and time, what might they choose? The group of objects assembled here—selected as physical markers of the Black imagination—is only one of countless possible answers to this question. Just as a monumental hearth is at the center of the kitchen’s activities, a five-sided television marks this more futuristic space as a source of information, inspiration, and connection to the multiple pasts, presents, and futures from which these objects might have been collected.

This kaleidoscopic device is an homage to the console televisions of the mid-twentieth century, which beamed so many monumental events into the home and served as a locus of storytelling and family life. It broadcasts a new work made especially for the room by Jenn Nkiru, a British-born filmmaker of Nigerian descent. Her videos celebrate the vibrant creativity and speculative vision of the African diaspora while exploring what she calls “cosmic archaeology,” a potentially mystical connection to history through visual memory.

Selected Artworks

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Orion Table, Ini Archibong  American, Glass, Carrara marble, Swiss
Multiple artists/makers
2021
Mido Chair, Jomo Tariku  Ethiopian American, Walnut veneer
Multiple artists/makers
2021
OUT / SIDE OF TIME, Jenn Nkiru, b. 1987  British, Five-channel digital video, black-and-white and color, sound, 6 min.
Jenn Nkiru, b. 1987 (British)
2021
Vernus 3, Ini Archibong  American, Glass, galvanized steel
Multiple artists/makers
2020
Iya Ati Omo, Yinka Ilori  British-Nigerian, Beech wood, enamel paint, brass, and cotton
Yinka Ilori (British-Nigerian, born London, 1987)
2016
Magodi - Noxolo, Zizipho Poswa  South African, Glazed ceramic
Zizipho Poswa (South African, born 1979)
2020

Living Room — Bookcase

Selected Artworks

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Power Figure: Male (Nkisi), Wood, glass, metal, cloth, organic matter, Kongo peoples
Kongo peoples
19th–20th century
Staff (Recade): Bird, Brass (hammered), copper, tin, seed pod(?), Fon peoples
Fon peoples
19th century
Prestige Stool: Leopard, Wood, glass beads, cowrie shells, burlap, printed cotton cloth, Bamileke or Bamum
Bamileke or Bamum
19th–20th century
Ceremonial Palm Wine Vessel, Gourd, glass beads, cloth, cane, wood, Grassfields region
Grassfields region
19th–20th century
Untitled, Magdalene Odundo  British, Red clay
Magdalene Odundo (British, born Nairobi, Kenya, 1950)
1997
Jitterbugs II, William Henry Johnson  American, Screenprint
William Henry Johnson (American, Florence, South Carolina 1901–1970 Central Islip, New York)
ca. 1941
Shine, Willie Cole  American, Shoes, steel wire, monofilament line, washers, and screws
Willie Cole (American, born Newark, New Jersey, 1955)
2007
Earth & Sky, Lorna Simpson  American, Cut and pasted printed papers
Lorna Simpson (American, born Brooklyn, New York, 1960)
2018
Sandi Conical Vase, Andile Dyalvane  South African, Glazed ceramic
Andile Dyalvane (South African, born 1978)
Imiso Studio (Imiso Studio, 2005)
2020
Handpinched Vase, Zizipho Poswa  South African, Glazed ceramic
Zizipho Poswa (South African, born 1979)
Imiso Studio (Imiso Studio, 2005)
2020
Handpinched Vase, Zizipho Poswa  South African, Glazed ceramic
Zizipho Poswa (South African, born 1979)
Imiso Studio (Imiso Studio, 2005)
2020
Fat conical vase, Zizipho Poswa  South African, Glazed ceramic
Zizipho Poswa (South African, born 1979)
Imiso Studio (Imiso Studio, 2005)
2020

Living Room — North Wall

Selected Artworks

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Andrea Motley Crabtree, the first, Henry Taylor  American, Acrylic on canvas
Henry Taylor (American, born Oxnard, California, 1958)
2017

Plan Your Visit

Dates
November 5, 2021–Ongoing
Free with Museum admission