Installation of historical African masks from the collection of Oscar Mokeme at University of New England in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The University of New England looks to the past and to the future with a pair of exhibitions relating to the African and Indigenous diaspora on view in the Portland campus art gallery. The past is represented by an exhibition called “Nmuo, Spirits: African Art as Communication Tool,” featuring spirit masks from the collection of Oscar Mokeme, founder of the Museum of African Culture in Portland. The future is seen through the curatorial lens of multimedia artist and writer Asata Radcliffe in an installation titled “KAL: 2221.”

“Kal” is a Hindi word that means both yesterday and tomorrow. In her exhibition, Radcliffe brings together artists to project the cultural future of Maine 200 years from now, from the Indigenous and African perspective and in consideration of climate change. The installation includes work from the artists Firefly, Ian Trask, Meeta Mastani and Devon Kelley-Yurdin.

The complementary displays make an interesting pairing and help ease the gallery back into hosting art exhibitions, said gallery director Hilary Irons. The gallery is open to the campus community by appointment and to others remotely through video tours created by videographer Jared Lank, with videos for each installation. While the campus remains closed to the general public, Irons is hopeful people will make the effort to view the exhibitions remotely. They are on view through June 13.

Holobiont Waiting Room by Devon Kelley-Yurdin as part of the installation “KAL: 2221,” curated by Asata Radcliffe at the Art Gallery at the University of New England in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I am happy to give remote appointments via Zoom to anyone who is interested,” Irons said. “With the ongoing pandemic, I am happy to do all I can to make the show remotely accessible to all and lower barriers. So far we have worked with Rowe Elementary School, Casco Bay High School, and UNE’s Legacy Scholars group in this way, and it has been very successful. The Zoom presentations have been very well-received and I’ve had really good feedback from participants.”

The gallery is planning a collaborative presentation in early June with the Indigo Arts Alliance and the artist Firefly, whose film is featured in “KAL: 2221.”

“The fictionalized core of Radcliffe’s work revolves around very real narratives, forming a counterpoint to Mokeme’s masks, which present a specifically embodied history related to the African diaspora and original homeland,” Irons wrote in her statement for the exhibition.

To learn more about the exhibition and videos, visit the gallery website. To arrange a Zoom tour, email Irons at [email protected].


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