Celebrated Filmmaker Ava DuVernay Is Organizing Shows by Black Artists to Raise Money for Her Law Enforcement Accountability Project

Titled “Say My Name,” the exhibitions will coincide with Black History Month in the UK and US.

Ava DuVernay. Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.
Ava DuVernay. Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

The award-winning activist filmmaker Ava DuVernay is collaborating with the London-based Signature African Art gallery to present two exhibitions honoring influential figures and moments in Black history.

The exhibitions, both titled “Say My Name,” will open in London in October and Los Angeles in February to coincide with Black History Month in the UK and US.

The London edition, which will include 13 commissioned works by Africa-based artists, including Demola Ogunajo, Ejiro Owigho, and Anthony Nsofo, honors activists such as Angela Davis and Wangari Maathai, as well as victims of police brutality, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The choice of 13 artists is a nod to DuVernay’s 2016 documentary, 13th, which examines race, justice, and mass incarceration in the US. 

The film director organized the show with Signature African Art gallery director Khalil Akar. Forty percent of the sales proceeds will go to DuVernay’s Law Enforcement Accountability Project, a fund that commissions Black artists and activists to tell stories of police abuse through different art forms.

Demola Ogunajo, <i>Twin Angels</i> (2012). Courtesy Signature African Art.

Demola Ogunajo, Twin Angels (2012). Courtesy Signature African Art.

“Art is a disruptive and propulsive force,” DuVernay says. “Creative expression is one of the most powerful tools that we can employ to activate and ignite change.”

Among the artists in the show are the Nigerian painter Oluwole Omofemi, who has created a tribute to George Floyd through a series of nine paintings marking the nearly nine minutes a police officer kneeled on his neck. Each painting contains one of Floyd’s final words or phrases. Meanwhile, the Benin-based artist Moufouli Bellohas created a portrait of Breonna Taylor.

Akar says that having African artists connect to issues in the diaspora was a chance to show that police brutality, racism, and violence are being experienced by Black people all over the world.

“What happened to George Floyd happened in America, but it sparked protests in Europe and Africa, where similar issues are being faced,” Akar says. 

Moufouli Bello, Sofia Doesn't Need to Change (2019). Courtesy Signature African Art.

Moufouli Bello, Sofia Doesn’t Need to Change (2019). Courtesy Signature African Art.

Other works will engage with moments in Black British History, such as the contributions of the Windrush generation, whose members came to the UK from the Caribbean in the Postwar period to boost a depleted labor market.

In his work, the Ouagadougou-based and self-taught artist Adjaratou Ouedraogo explores the subsequent poor treatment of the Windrush generation and its descendants, when it was revealed in 2018 that the British government wrongly detained, deported, and denied benefits to many of its members.

But the exhibition is not just about painful moments in Black history.

“‘Say My Name’ is not just about remembering Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the victims of police violence,” Akar says. “It is also about recognizing the many people who have had such a positive impact on the Black community.”

Giggs Kgole, <i>Boshielo</i> (2020). Courtesy Signature African Art.

Giggs Kgole, Boshielo (2020). Courtesy Signature African Art.

These include activists such as Angela Davis, who is captured in a portrait by artist Dennis Osakue, and the Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, the first Black woman to win a Nobel Prize.

The 2021 Los Angeles edition of the show will include 13 new works centered on white supremacy and police brutality.

Signature African Art was founded in 1992 in Lagos, Nigeria, and opened an outpost in London’s Mayfair neighborhood last year. 

“Say My Name” will be on view October 27 through November 28 at Signature African Art in London.

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