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“Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Works of Africa” Examines How Time Is Experienced and Produced by the Body

Exhibition Features Six Internationally Recognized African Artists

April 21, 2016

“Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Works of Africa” will be on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art May 18 through Jan. 2, 2017. The exhibition features six internationally recognized African artists and examines how time is experienced and produced by the body. Bodies stand, climb, dance and dissolve in seven works of video and film art. These time-based works by Sammy Baloji, Theo Eshetu, Moataz Nasr, Berni Searle, Yinka Shonibare MBE and Sue Williamson repeat, resist and reverse the expectation that time must move relentlessly forward. Full bios of each of the artists are available.

The exhibition is co-curated by Karen E. Milbourne, curator at the Museum of African Art, and Mary “Polly” Nooter Roberts, professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA. Roberts is also a consulting curator of African art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).  

“Senses of Time” was co-organized by the National Museum of African Art and LACMA. The exhibition opened at LACMA in December 2015, and it can be seen by the public simultaneously in three locations once it opens at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., in September. 

“Time is never neutral,” Milbourne said. “Our hearts beat to biological time and continents drift to geological time while we set our clocks to the precision of atomic time. Time’s movements are personal, cultural and political. For the artists in this exhibition, time and time-based media become powerful devices for challenging stereotypes and addressing race, identity, government policies and faith, as well as layering riveting imagery.”

“I am delighted that the exhibition will continue to be on view at LACMA while it shows simultaneously at the National Museum of African Art in May and the Wellin Museum of Art in September,” Roberts said. “It is a tribute to the artists and their compelling works that the exhibition can have wide national exposure at such important venues.”

 “Senses of Time” invites viewers to consider tensions between personal and political time, ritual and technological time, and bodily and mechanical time. Through pacing, sequencing, looping, layering and mirroring, diverse perceptions of time are embodied and expressed. This focused exhibition brings together a selection of time-based works that address the role of temporality as embodied by the medium itself and as experienced and produced by the body, the senses and the choreographies of memories and identities in motion.  It is composed of seven works by six artists: “About to Forget” and “A Matter of Time” by Berni Searle, “The Water” by Moataz Nasr,

“Mémoire” by Sammy Baloji, “Un Ballo in Maschera” by Yinka Shonibare MBE, “There’s Something I Must Tell You” by Sue Williamson and “Brave New World I” by Theo Eshetu.

The exhibition explores why artists work with time, to what ends and effects, and, in particular, the manner through which artists approach the passage of time as it is experienced in the body through movement and by the sensorium. Embodied dimensions of each of these works provide visitors with vital opportunities to reflect on how diverse, contemporary African artists understand and share their senses of time.

Shonibare’s European ballroom dancers in sumptuous African-print cloth gowns dramatize the absurdities of political violence as history repeats itself, while Baloji envisions choreographies of memory and forgetting in the haunted ruins of postcolonial deindustrialization. Searle addresses genealogical time as ancestral family portraits are tossed by the winds and waves of generational loss, as well as the slippages and fragility of time and identity. Nasr’s work treads on personal identities distorted by the march of time, and Eshetu draws the viewer into a captivating kaleidoscopic space in which past, present and future converge. 

Meet the Artist Series: Sue Williamson

On Wednesday, May 18, at 4 p.m., English-born South African artist Williamson and Milbourne discuss the artist’s practice. Exploring time and place, Williamson’s video work in the exhibition, “There’s Something I Must Tell You” (2013) presents a moving portrait of struggle, hope, understanding and love. In the video, six women who fought against apartheid in South Africa—Brigalia Bam, Amina Cachalia, Ilse Fischer, Rebecca Kotane, Caroline Motsoaledi and Vesta Smith—discuss their past and their aspirations with their granddaughters, a new generation born in a free South Africa. A public gallery public tour will take place at 3:30 p.m. before Williamson’s talk.

Educational Programs

Public programs will accompany the exhibition to engage the museum’s diverse audiences from K–12 to adult.

About the Curators

Milbourne has been a curator at the National Museum of African Art since May 2008. Since joining the museum, she has curated the exhibitions “Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa” (2013), “Artists in Dialogue: António Ole and Aimé Mpane” (2009) and “Artists in Dialogue 2: Sandile Zulu and Henrique Oliveira” (2011). She was also coordinating curator for the exhibitions “Yinka Shonibare MBE” (2010), “Central Nigeria Unmasked” (2011) and “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists” (2015).

Roberts is a professor in UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance and consulting curator for African art at LACMA. She holds a master’s degree and doctorate in art history from Columbia University. She served as senior curator at the Museum for African Art in New York until 1994 and as deputy director and chief curator of UCLA’s Fowler Museum until 2008. Roberts is the author and curator of thematic books and exhibitions that explore the philosophical underpinnings of African visual arts and expressive culture, such as secrecy, memory, writing and inscription, as well as topics of the body and female representation, arts of devotional and healing practices, and theories of exhibiting. Together with Allen F. Roberts she produced the award-winning exhibitions “Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History” (1996) and “A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal” (2003). They also co-authored Luba in the Visions of Africa Series (2007). In 2007, she was decorated by the Republic of France as a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters.

About the National Museum of African Art

The National Museum of African Art is the nation’s premier museum dedicated exclusively to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of Africa’s diverse arts. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. The museum is located at 950 Independence Ave. S.W., near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. For more information, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the National Museum of African Art’s website. For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000. 

Note to Editors: Selected images from “Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Works of Africa” may be downloaded by visiting the museum’s media website and clicking on “access to images.” Username: press. Password: africa. For media requests, contact Eddie Burke at (202) 633-4660 or

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Media only

Eddie Burke         
(202) 633-4660;

Media preview

Tuesday, May 17; 9:30–11:30 a.m.; The media tour will take place in the museum’s lecture hall, sublevel 2.