Fort Greene’s MoCADA opens new Ubuntu Garden with sculptural series of ‘Living Legends’

moCADA garden from the street
The new Ubuntu Garden at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art.
Photo by Susan de Vries

The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts recently celebrated its newly built-out Ubuntu Garden, located alongside a brownstone on a sliver of land previously used for parking. An “early look” at the space — which is set to open to the public on Sept. 1 — included music, a procession, and an unveiling of artwork. 

The new artwork, named “Brooklyn Bronzes” in a nod to the Benin Bronzes, currently consists of 20 bronze mask-like portraits depicting “Brooklyn’s living legends — the Black pillars of our community who have contributed greatly to arts, education, and advocacy through their work,” artist Kholisile Dhilwayo said in an artists’ statement on MoCADA‘s website.

bronze statues at ubuntu garden
The bronze masks depict notable Black Brooklynites. Photo by Susan de Vries

Created by Dhliwayo, an artist and architect, the sculptures are mounted in a line on the garden’s rear brick wall under an eye-catching two-story-high mural of the late art and music critic Greg Tate at 48 Lafayette Avenue on a busy corner a few blocks from MoCADA’s headquarters. Under each is a label with a QR code that plays audio of the featured person speaking about their “legacy, their joy, and resilience,” as MoCADA put it. The ongoing series could eventually immortalize 80 or more people.

“Brooklyn Bronzes is a spatial and oral narrative monument to the joy, resistance, resilience, and legacy of Black advocates, community organizers, artists, educators, and spiritual leaders. Their commitment and legacy serve as a reminder that we too are future ancestors,” Dhilwayo said in an artists’ statement.

Among those depicted are organizer and educator Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele, playwright and screen writer Lynn Nottage, founder and president of nonprofit Children of Promise Sharon Content, New York City urban planner Ibon Manar Muhammadi, Bed-Stuy art gallery founder Richard Beavers, and MoCADA founder and former City Council member and current New York City Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Laurie Cumbo.

In a statement, curator Amy Andrieux said the works were born out of MoCADA’s usual end-of-year open call to artists and educators. Andrieux was particularly taken with Dhliwayo’s initial pitch, which would explore “real Black people and their experiences of corporate America,” the curator said in a statement.

portrait at moCADE ubuntu garden
The new garden is slated to open to the public on Sept. 1. Photo by Susan de Vries

But Andrieux did not want to focus on the pangs of corporate America, but on “to celebrate our joy in being Black and how that reverberates through the work of those who love us,” and to respond to the ongoing issues surrounding the Benin Bronzes, which were looted from Benin and have not been returned. 

The MoCADA Ubuntu Garden at 48 Lafayette Ave. will be free and open to the public Wednesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.—7 p.m., starting Sept. 1. 

— A version of this story first appeared on Brooklyn Paper’s sister site Brownstoner. Additional reporting by Kirstyn Brendlen.