An Exhibition Commemorates the Legacy of Jamestown

"20 and Odd: The 400-Year Anniversary of 1619" at the LeRoy Neiman Gallery documents the arrival of the first Africans in the American colonies.

Eve Glasberg
August 21, 2019

When the earliest documented Africans arrived in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the American colonies, they were recorded as “20 and odd Negroes,” who disembarked from an English pirate ship flying a Dutch flag.

20 and Odd: The 400-Year Anniversary of 1619 commemorates the arrival of these Africans who landed in Jamestown. The exhibition opens at the LeRoy Neiman Gallery on August 30, 2019 and will be on view through September 30, 2019. Through images, documents and other archival materials, and contemporary art, the exhibition explores this event and its historical implications from the 17th through the 21st centuries.

“The 20 and odd Africans signify the integral importance of Western Africa in the development and prosperity of the New World and, more specifically, the central role of Africans in transforming what would become the United States into a political, cultural and economic world power,” said Kalia Brooks Nelson, an adjunct professor in the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department who curated the exhibition.

The works on display are from collections that are housed at Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library as well as collections and archives at the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.

“These objects provide insight into what the texture of life would have been like for Africans in the conflicted space of the New World, and are also the basis from which to consider contemporary art that reflects attitudes, discord, popular culture and personal accounts about Africa and the descendants of African people as foundational actors in the emergence of the Atlantic World,” said Nelson.

Artists with pieces in the exhibition include Sanford Biggers, Thomas Askew, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, Hank Willis Thomas, Paula Wilson, Hale Woodruff and Adama Delphine Fawundu, a 2018 School of the Arts graduate, whose site-specific mural, Tales from the Mano River, will cover the walls of the lobby in Miller Theatre through June 2020.