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Colonial Collection

© Fred Wilson. Courtesy Pace Gallery, New York. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

Colonial Collection

Artist: Fred Wilson (born in the Bronx, New York, 1954)
Culture: American; African
Date: 1990
Medium: Mixed media
Table vitrine: 48 3/4 x 86 1/2 x 26 3/4 inches (123.8 x 219.7 x 67.9 cm)
Classification: Mixed Media
Credit Line: Museum purchase
Label Text:Fred Wilson is highly regarded for his questioning of institutional practices, including museum collecting and the display and interpretation of art and artifacts. By juxtaposing and recontextualizing objects and information in non-traditional ways, his work blurs the line between artist and curator.

Colonial Collection is an early work by Wilson that exemplifies his practice of bringing together disparate objects to generate critique, in this particular case of the colonization of the African continent. The artist’s choice of the orange wall and the wood and glass cabinet form part of his strategy to evoke the display of an ethnographic museum. African masks with their eyes covered by British and French flags may speak to European colonizers’ attempts to cut off connections to indigenous traditions and obliterate certain practices and power structures. Encased insects next to a skull and jawbone act as a metaphor for Europe’s racial (and racist) classification of Africans, which was used as an attempt to justify colonization. Harper’s Weekly newspaper prints depict the British at war with two of the more powerful centralized governments on the African continent: the Ashanti (in modern day Ghana) and the Zulu (in modern day South Africa). The installation uses the relationship between these various objects to investigate and problematize Europe’s systematic colonization of Africa.

Provenance: The Pace Gallery, New York, NY, acquired directly from the artist [Number 36437].
Object number: 2010.18.1