‘The Progress of Love’. Extract from ‘Love and Africa’ essay by Kristina Van Dyke

The Progress of Love  exhibition opened on December 2nd 2012 and runs until March 17th 2013 at the Menil Collection. To celebrate  both the works in this show and Valentine’s Day, Yale University Press have posted a specially selected extract here and there is a selection of spreads from the exhibition catalogue available to view via our Facebook page.

‘Love is an affirmative recognition of another’s existence. It can be given or received. It need not be reciprocated. One can love an object or an idea that cannot love you back. You can love someone who may not return your feelings. Whether giving, receiving, or both, one feels decidedly more alive when participating in love.’

Love is, arguably, one of the features that make us human. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that what distinguishes us as human is our ability to produce cultural constructs that make love visible and understandable, or even that these constructs produce the very notions of love they claim to represent.

The Progress of Love at the Menil Collection brings together more than twenty artists, some of whom were commissioned to make work for the exhibition. The artists hail from over a dozen different locations in Africa, the United States, Europe, and in between, and their works range from instillations and video projections to photography and painting and an NGO. Each of them participates in an exploration of how local and distant concepts of love, handed down over time, are reshaped in the present through the forces of ‘progress’, including a globalized economy that makes simultaneous communication possible in ways we never previously imagined. 

Works in the exhibition plumb the systems that circulate, shape, and enable expressions of love and probe the images of love those systems produce. They consider how one engages with, adopts, or rejects such concepts through the actual experience of performing love and through the act of making art.

Some of the central questions The Progress of Love poses at the Menil Collection are: Does love in its myriad forms, from romantic bonds, friendship, familial relations, to affection for an object or idea, exist without cultural and historical constructs that frame and narritavize our experience of it? Can one enact love outside of these frameworks? Is there some aspect of love that is timeless and universal? What roles have technology, media, language, and religious and economic systems played in enabling and shaping our experience of love? Has the digital age in which we live made notions of love more similar?

From ‘Love and Africa’ an essay by Kristina Van Dyke in The Progress of Love

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