In Ted Joans: Land of the Rhinoceri, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts presents a suite of 31 works—in watercolor, pencil, ink, crayon, and collage that the artist completed in 1956 and gathered in a portfolio titled Drawings from Africa. 

Born in Chicago in 1928, Theodore “Ted” Joans was an unlikely icon of the art world. An African American visual artist, poet, and jazz musician, Joans found a prominent space among the surrealist painters, beat poets, and avant-garde musicians of the era. Joans was a modern renaissance man who, upon his departure from Chicago, took residence in New York and Timbuktu, located in Northern Mali on the upper west coast of Africa. For nearly three decades, Joans kept a home in Timbuktu and traveled extensively throughout Africa creating a visual diary of his encounters. 

The works of art featured in this exhibition were a gift to VMFA from author, scholar, and longtime Virginia Commonwealth University art history professor Dr. Regenia Perry. The exhibition also features select ephemera such as an artist’s book and examples of Joans’s poetry. 

Portraits figure prominently in this exhibition as Joans focused his gaze on the people he encountered on his travels. His subjects’ eyes meet the viewer’s or turn away. Joans’s images are vibrant full-length or half-length portraits that depict individuals in a range of traditional and contemporary African styles of dress. Also included are renderings of masks and classical African sculptural figures. 

Visitors will experience a visual antecedent to Joans’s poem “Africa,” which includes the following lines: “Land of my mothers, where a black god made me/ My Africa, your Africa, a free continent to be.” 

Ted Joans: Land of the Rhinoceri was curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

 


TOP IMAGE Drawings from Africa, 1956, Ted Joans (American, 1928–2003), watercolor and pencil on board. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Dr. Regenia Perry, 2020.366a-b

ABOVE LEFT Untitled, from the series Drawings from Africa, 1956, Ted Joans (American, 1928–2003), watercolor and pencil on board. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Dr. Regenia Perry, 2020.389

ABOVE RIGHT Untitled, from the series Drawings from Africa, 1956, Ted Joans (American, 1928–2003), watercolor and pencil on board. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Dr. Regenia Perry, 2020.394