Art in Embassies (AIE) has commissioned the School of Art + Design at Western Carolina University (WCU) to create a permanent, site-specific work of art for the new U.S. Embassy complex in Niamey, Niger. The commissioned project is structured within a collaborative university course, Public Practice, created by Tom Ashcraft, MFA Director. Over the three-year project timeline undergraduate and graduate art students will be working with Ashcraft, faculty leadership, and visiting artists, designers, and scholars to engage in the entire project. This includes concept research, design, development, presentation of proposal, overseeing fabrication, and final installation of the artwork on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in 2019.
In January of 2017, the partnership was launched with the first of six seventeen-week courses that included a lecture titled Building Bridges—Creating Dialogues by Art in Embassies curator, Sarah Tanguy. As Tanguy explained…”Art in Embassies is pleased to partner with WCU on this important commission. Beyond the team’s creative problem solving, their underlying philosophy of global to local and their ethnographic approach to research will no doubt lead to a work that is not only aesthetically and visually stimulating, but also one respectful of Niger’s history and reflective of the country’s present and future aspirations.”
Other examples of course activity included visiting art historian and archaeologist, Dr. Karen Britt, lecture on Islamic architecture in Sub Saharan Africa and attending the WCU exhibition Soft Diplomacy: Quilting Cultural Diplomacy in Liberia curated by Stephanie Beck Cohen, Ph.D. art history, Indiana University. The soft diplomacy exhibition featured a panel discussion focusing on Africa and cultural exchange led by Stephanie Beck Cohen, and included Saheed Aderinto, Ph.D. WCU associate professor, Department of History, and Jennifer Schiff, Ph.D. WCU associate professor and director of international studies, Department of Political Science and Public Affairs. The students in Public Practice also engaged in video conferencing with Sarah Tanguy, Minh Le, design manager for the Niger embassy project, and design architects from Miller Hull Architecture.
In the fall of 2017, students and faculty continued development of the design and began fabrication logistics as well as conducting research into the diverse trends and best practices for art in the public realm, which included individual and collaborative student inquiry and a research trip to Niamey, Niger. From October 3 through October 7, curator Sarah Tanguy, Tom Ashcraft, and Western Carolina University School of Art + Design professor and colleague Morgan Kennedy traveled to Niamey, Niger, to visit the new embassy building site, meeting with embassy staff and project managers, Niger’s cultural leadership, educators, students, and local artists.
As Ashcraft noted…”The goal was to begin connecting research to practice and to come away with …a good sense of Niamey, to experience the city and its flow, grasp an idea of its significance historically, culturally, and environmentally, and to simply ask questions, shake hands and meet a range of people during our short visit.”
This included visiting the National Museum to meet with Director Ali Bida and Assistant Director Maki Garba for an overview of the cultural history of Niger. The team also met with the Minister of Cultural Renaissance, artists from the Niamey Artist Association, and Catherine Martin Payen Dicko, filmmaker and director of studies in art and culture and her students from Université Abdou Moumouni, Niamey, where they presented their work in progress and discussed with students about their individual and collaborative projects in Niger. The research team also visited significant historic, environmental, and cultural sites such as the Grand Mosque of Niamey, and the Koure Giraffe Reserve.