Triumph of First Congress on African Culture

Triumph of First Congress on African Culture

The London Times August 12, 1962

Written for the Catalog of the opening of the Rhodes National Gallery by Frank McEwen Salisbury, Rhodesia, July, 1957
“The Dark Gift” Time Magazine, Sept. 28, 1962
A trip to Africa: Frank McEwen, Rhodesia and Shona Art, 1968 by Adele Aldridge

It is desirable that such people should know something first hand of what African artists are doing today.

Between the desirable and the possible a gap may yawn, however; and it may yawn all the wider if it be decided that such a congress should do the logical thing and conduct its deliberations on African soil. Conceivably one man and one only could have pushed the idea through in today’s conditions; and that man is Mr. Frank McEwen, Director since l956 of the National Gallery in Salisbury. Mr. McEwen first formed the idea of the congress before ever he had set foot in Rhodesia — at the time in fact, when he was best known for a decade of valiant activity as the British Council’s Fine Arts Officer in Paris; and the taste of Africa itself confirmed him a hundred times over in his intentions. But, backed though he was by sympathizers in three continents, by several of the governments concerned, and by financial contributions from the Ford Foundation and from private sources in Rhodesia, negotiations took several laborious years and the opening date had more than once to be postponed.

The congress as it finally came into being was a triumph on almost every count. Delegates were drawn from three continents and many countries and included many of those who have done most to present us with a scientific idea of African art, music, and history. The upper galleries housed an exhibition of masterpieces of African art that would have embellished any museum in the world; museums and private collections had rallied unsparingly to the task of assembling what was by a long way the finest and it was always a part of Mr. McEwen’s grand design that the non traditional African art of the l960’s should also have a place. Ten regions in all contributed paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and textiles, and outstanding among the artists involved was a member of the National Gallery staff, Mr. Thomas Mukorombogwo.