Chatham News

Student-curated exhibition utilizes never-before-seen works to explore Western views of African art

By: Amanda Kennedy, Senior Public Relations Specialist
November 11, 2010

PITTSBURGH (November 8, 2010) … Works from the extensive Cheryl Olkes Collection of African Art at Chatham University once again will be on display through a student-curated exhibition and will feature art on public view for the first time. How to Look at African Art, curated by students in University’s Art 368: Museum Education and the Visual Arts class, contrasts the way Westerners view African art with the way Africans themselves view and appreciate the art they create.

The opening reception will be Thursday, November 11 from 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. and the exhibition will continue through Thursday, December 2. The Chatham University Art Gallery is located in Woodland Hall on the University’s Academic Quad and is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information call 412-365-1106 or email For directions and parking information

“Westerners have appreciated African art as “fine” art for over one hundred years and avant-garde artists like Picasso and Matisse first recognized it as an exciting and new visual experience. Unfortunately, little concern was given about who made these works, and why, and what this art meant to a particular culture,” explains Elisabeth Roark, Ph.D., Chatham’s associate professor of art who has studied the Olkes Collection since its acquisition in 2001. “This perspective has changed since the 1970s, when Cheryl Olkes first began her interest in African art, and scholars and curators are studying African art within a cultural context and exploring how African cultures view their works.”

Each year students in the Art Museum Studies program utilize the Olkes Collection to study African culture, then propose an exhibition theme based upon their research. The students are responsible for selecting the works, organizing the displays and creating all exhibition materials.

“Through their own individual research our students have juxtaposed how Western audiences have viewed African art with how these cultures not only display but utilize their art. And because of the scope of the Olkes Collection, we’ll be able to display items that haven’t been seen by the public.”

About the Olkes Collection of African Art
After graduating with a bachelor’s in English from Chatham in 1970, Cheryl Olkes earned a master’s in journalism at Ohio State University and a doctorate in communications at the University of Texas. She and her former husband, author Paul Stoller, collected art, books, beads and textiles during many trips to Africa throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Olkes was owner and director of Harmattan Arts of Africa Gallery in Washington, D.C. and through their extensive research of African art, Olkes and Stoller co-authored “In Sorcery’s Shadow: A Memoir of Apprenticeship Among the Songhay of Niger” in 1989. Chatham’s Olkes Collection represents the largest of its kind in western Pennsylvania, while other works from her estate are displayed at galleries across the country, including at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

About Chatham University
Chatham University prepares students from around the world to help develop solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Every Chatham student – women in Chatham’s historic women’s residential college, and men and women in Chatham’s graduate programs – receives a highly individualized, experiential educational experience that is informed by Chatham’s strong institutional commitment to globalism, the environment and citizen leadership. Founded in 1869, Chatham University includes the Shadyside Campus, with Chatham Eastside and the historic 39-acre Woodland Road arboretum; and the 388-acre Eden Hall Campus north of Pittsburgh. For more information call 800-837-1290 or visit