Watch Frederick Ebenezer Okai’s massive sculpture "When the Gods Speak, Heaven Listens" journey from Ghana to Ann Arbor


Frederick Ebenezer Okai’s When the Gods Speak, Heaven Listens

Installation shot of When the Gods Speak, Heaven Listens, clay, duvet, light, nylon rope, metal wire, polyurethane glue, 2022. 174.1” x 83.1”. Photograph by Frederick Ebenezer Okai. Museum purchase made possible by the UMMA Director’s Acquisition Committee, 2022.

The We Write To You About Africa exhibition at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) isn't really an exhibition in the traditional sense.

It launched in 2021, both online and in person, and is scheduled to run indefinitely because rather than being a limited-time display of UMMA's art plus borrowed pieces, it's actually a reinstallation of the Robert and Lillian Montalto Bohlen Gallery of African art with the connected A. Alfred Taubman Gallery II space. The combined rooms double the amount of space the museum can use to highlight art drawn from collections across the U-M campus as well as new additions to UMMA.

The latest work to join We Write To You About Africa is Frederick Ebenezer Okai’s When the Gods Speak, Heaven Listens, a nearly 15-foot-tall sculpture by the Ghanian artist that comes in three parts: a vaselike clay body decorated with various patterns, topped by a ceramic depiction of two humans, with clouds hovering over the other sections.

UMMA released a video that follows the journey of When the Gods Speak, Heaven Listens from Accra, Ghana to Ann Arbor and its installation at the museum. Check it out below:

More on We Write to You About Africa:

Following years of research into the Museum’s and University of Michigan’s relationships with Africa and African art collections, We Write To You About Africa is a complete reinstallation and doubling of the Museum’s space dedicated to African art. 

Featuring a wide range of artworks—from historic Yoruba and Kongo figures to contemporary works by African and African American artists, such as Sam Nhlengethwa, Masimba Hwati, Jon Onye Lockard and Shani Peters—the exhibition directly addresses the complex and difficult histories inherent to African art collections in the Global North, including their entanglements with colonization and global efforts to repatriate African artworks to the continent.

Art collections, by their very nature, can not be anything other than subjective. With We Write To You About Africa, we examine the subjective ways UMMA and the University of Michigan as a whole have collected and presented art from and connected to the African diaspora.

➥ "Mary Sibande's 'Sophie/Elsie' sculpture anchors UMMA's African art gallery" [Pulp, December 28, 2021]