“Wandering from the Straight Path of Clarity,” review of “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists”

“You may feel, at times, as if you’ve been handed a map, and then told that the map may or may not be accurate, may or may not relate to anything in the real world, may or may not be entirely a fiction, or a random design concocted by some clever trickster to mislead you. That is how the title of a new show at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art — ‘The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists’ — relates to the work on view, by more than 40 artists from 18 African countries.

“The exhibition is shoehorned into spaces not quite big enough for anything to breathe comfortably, filling temporary galleries, stairwells and passage spaces on four floors of the mostly subterranean museum. The current exhibition, curated by Simon Njami, is slightly smaller than the original Dante exhibition he presented in Frankfurt last spring, but it still sprawls, both in its physical layout (the route through its various rooms requires careful navigation) and intellectually.

“Consider one of the best works in the show, a large-scale drawing by Julie Mehretu, in which a finely etched suggestion of architectural facades is overlaid with a storm of delicate lines, smudges and erasures. In the catalogue, published in conjunction with the Frankfurt display, her work is listed as belonging to the ‘Purgatory’ part of the presentation; in Washington, it is in the ‘Inferno’ room. It isn’t the only work to migrate from one celestial realm to another, and those migrations suggest that the basic template borrowed from Dante is not to be taken too seriously.” […]    –Phillip Kennicott, The Washington Post, April 17, 2015

See also our post on the first iteration of Njami’s exhibition, featured at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s museum.

Arthur Chu on Hell

“Hell has a gate with an inscription on it and everything, it’s famous” […]    –Arthur Chu, Twitter, October 25, 2018

What Dreams May Come, 1998

What Dreams May ComeVincent Ward’s 1998 film, What Dreams May Come, starring Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra, explores the after-life. The film’s protagonist, Chris Neilson, finds himself in heaven after death. His wife, Annie, has committed suicide and resides in hell; when Chris sets out to find her, he travels through a representation of the first seven circles of Dante’s Inferno.

Steve Miller Band, “Jet Airliner”

Jet AirlinerOne line of Steve Miller Band’s 1977 single “Jet Airliner” will sound familiar to any reader of Dante’s Divine Comedy:

“You know you got to go through hell before you get to heaven.”    —AZ Lyrics

Listen to the full song here.

Contributed by Kelly Clark

SCAD Museum of Art: “The Divine Comedy”

Muluneh Aida, 99 SeriesThe Savannah College of Art and Design’s museum featured an exhibit called “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists” which ran from October 16, 2014 to January 25, 2015.

“SCAD presents the U.S. premiere of ‘The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists.’ Curated by the internationally acclaimed Simon Njami, this monumental exhibition explores the thematic sequences of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem through works by more than 40 contemporary artists from 19 African countries as well as the African diaspora. [. . .]

“Through a variety of media, this exhibition demonstrates how concepts visited in Dante’s poem transcend Western traditions and resonate with diverse contemporary cultures, belief systems and political issues. Overall, the exhibition provides a probing examination of life, death and the continued power of art to express the unspoken and intangible.”    —SCAD Museum of Art

The exhibition was later featured at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, running from April 8 to August 2, 2015. The large exhibition was on display in the entrance pavilion, stairwells, and all three floors of the museum. See the National Museum of African Art’s exhibition page here, and Elena Goukassian’s review in the Washington Post here (April 16, 2015).

“Heaven, Hell, and Dying Well: Images of Death in the Middle Ages” at the Getty Museum (May-August, 2012)

getty-museum-images-of-death-in-the-middle-ages“Denise Poncher before a Vision of Death”
Master of the Chronique scandaleuse
French, about 1500
Tempera colors, ink, and gold on parchment
5 1/4 x 3 7/16 in.
MS. 109, FOL. 156
“Heaven, Hell, and Dying Well: Images of Death in the Middle Ages” at the Getty Museum

See also: film screenings

The New Yorker’s “Nine Circles of Heaven”

nine-circles-of-heaven
Contributed by Leslie Zarker Morgan

Justin Cartwright, “To Heaven by Water” (2009)

justin-cartwright-to-heaven-by-water-2009“In the two-page prologue to Justin Cartwright’s new novel, To Heaven by Water, two brothers, ‘no longer young,’ are sitting by a campfire in the Kalahari Desert. The elder is smoking dope and reciting Gerard Manley Hopkins’s tongue-twisting, syntax-bending sonnet ‘The Windhover’: ‘I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon. . . .’ (This can’t be very good weed he’s smoking, since he makes it through all 14 lines without losing his way.) In response, the younger ‘feels a rushing, unstoppable love’ for him, which he expresses by mouthing the conclusion of the Divine Comedy: L’amor che muove il sole e l’altre stelle. (Cartwright goes on to translate for us, though such a familiar line needs Englishing far less than Hopkins does.) The scene ends with Cartwright’s own image of the stars, ‘implausibly bright, scattered carelessly like lustrous seed across the southern sky.'” [. . .]    –David Gates, The New York Times, August 13, 2009

The 7th Heaven

harry-winston-the-seventh-heaven

Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2007, p. A2 (retrieved on January 15, 2008)

Contributed by Ruth Caldwell

Christian Anthony, “And Everything In Between” (2006)

christian-anthony-and-everything-in-between

“In his video short, Christian Anthony has appropriated film and television clips creating a collage of images and scenes describing the afterlife. These fragments, taken from the last several decades, emphasize the tension between the media-driven, pop culture representations of heaven, hell and purgatory and people’s personal perceptions of these concepts. Anthony’s portrait of the collective afterlife is at times comic, violent and wicked as it tosses up stereotypes, self-righteousness and fear.”    —San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art

Watch the video here.