Leonardo Benzant's Afrosupernatural Art Explores Connections to the Trans African-Atlantic Diaspora at Aljira

Newark, New Jersey— Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art is pleased to present Leonardo Benzant: Afrosupernatural organized by Visiting Curator, Dexter Wimberly. Recognizing both his ties and disjunction from an ancestral past, Leonardo Benzant’s practice is driven by his connection to the trans African-Atlantic diaspora. An opening reception will be held at Aljira on April 2, 2016 from 5-8pm. The exhibition will be on view through April 30, 2016. 

"Volleying between the sacred and the secular, Leonardo Benzant mines a deep well of personal experiences and international artistic vocabularies. His tactile sculptural works are masterfully constructed and vibrate with sensual energy, while his paintings and drawings are fluid and intuitive with an indiscernible quality that begs the question of their origin. Is this African, South American, Caribbean, or Native American? - it is simultaneously none, yet influenced by all,” states Visiting Curator, Dexter Wimberly.

Considering the possibilities of genetic imprints, cultural identification, innate and intuitive beliefs and a conscious seeking of links that reveal continuities that are hidden or largely unsuspected by the mainstream, Benzant imagines himself as an Urban Shaman. His sculptures from the series Paraphernalia of the Urban Shaman M:5, are inspired by African power-objects, such as the minkisi and makutos of the Bakongo tribe, while also visually referencing the banding patterns of chromosomes, thus fusing the spiritual with the scientific.

Benzant's recent work also includes "Afrospanglish", a cycle of paintings that emerged from his series titled Signatures. According to Benzant, "Afrospanglish explores and develops many of the original, ideographic, visual strategies of the "Signatures" series but also incorporates the idea of conflating personal cosmology and abstract-figuration that generate compositions characterized by large heads which function as conduits or metaphors for cultural/personal memory, inner-worlds, ancestors, spirits or universes akin to the cosmology of Bakongo-derived ritual charms known as nkisi. An nkisi, is an object said to be a miniatured world; a central ritual object that partakes of oral traditions, natural forces, ancestral spirits, divination and the ritual complex of the Bakongo."

Developed concurrently is a mixed-media body of work titled "Kalunga Inbetween Worlds (K7)" that explores themes, materials and colors related to Kalunga, an ocean deity associated with the Bakongo people of Central Africa who were brought into the New World in significant numbers.

Born in New York City to Dominican parents, Benzant is an emerging artist on the rise. His work includes painting, performance, sculpture, sound, and installation as he investigates deeply personal experiences of identity, ancestry, family, community and spirituality. Information is drawn from the uniquely shared history of code switching, double-consciousness and multiple narratives that people of African descent have inherited and are compelled to adopt as a survival strategy for daily life. Like this common experience his work straddles two worlds, embodying the dynamics of being both sacred and secular. Observing western art historical constructions, modalities of thought and contemporary discourse informs Benzant’s practice while centering his work in community practices and rituals, drawing personal inspiration from the spirit and the oral traditions of the African ancestors that came across the Atlantic Ocean during the middle passage slave trade.

Benzant attended Pratt Institute from 2007 – 2010. In addition to being in several important private collections, his work was recently acquired by The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture in Charlotte, North Carolina for their permanent art collection. He was also one of the artists included in the Gantt Center's February 2015 exhibition, Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness. His work was recently exhibited at the N'Namdi Center in Detroit, Michigan and will be included in an upcoming exhibition, Koi No Yokan III, at 101/EXHIBIT gallery in Los Angeles, California opening in July 2016.


Public Programs

Thursday, April 7, 2016, 6–8pm:

Dreamtime: Music and Poetry Series

This series curated by Jim Haba, Founding Director of the biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival brings together poetry, music, and contemporary visual art. This final installment will feature performing artists Marjorie Barnes and Angela Kariotis with a special presentation by Newark youth following a three-week poetry workshop.


Saturday, April 16, 2016, 4–5:30pm:

NO Boundaries Jazz Series Performance with the Craig Harris Quartet. NO Boundaries is a series of intimate jazz performances curated by world-renowned, master musician Oliver Lake.


Saturday, April 23, 2016, 2–4pm:

Leonardo Benzant in Conversation with Dexter Wimberly

Visiting Curator Dexter Wimberly will discuss Leonardo Benzant's artistic practice and visual references in his work inspired by power-objects and his connection to the trans African-Atlantic diaspora.


About Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art

Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art fosters excellence in the visual arts through exhibitions and educational programs that serve as catalysts for inclusiveness and diversity, promote cross-cultural dialog, and enable us to better understand the time in which we live. Public understanding and support of the visual arts are strengthened through collaboration and community-based educational programming. Aljira seeks out the work of emerging and underrepresented artists and brings the work of more established artists to our community. Through the visual arts Aljira bridges racial, cultural and ethnic divides and enriches the lives of individuals.

Aljira’s operations and programs are made possible, in part, by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, New Jersey Cultural Trust, The Kenneth Aidekman Family Foundation, Bank of America, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Edison Properties, Newark Foundation, Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, Joan Mitchell Foundation, Lambent Foundation, MCJ Amelior Foundation, Merrill Lynch, Newark Downtown District, The New York Community Trust, Pharmachem Laboratories, Inc, PNC Bank, Prudential Financial, The Prudential Foundation, PSE&G Foundation,  Newark Celebration 350, The Schumann Fund, The Turrell Fund, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and many generous individual contributors.


Aljira is located at 591 Broad Street in downtown Newark. For directions visit our website at The Center is open Wednesday through Friday, 12–6 pm and Saturday, 11 am–4pm. Phone 973 622-1600, fax 973 622-6526, Website: On Instagram: @aljiraart. On Facebook: On Tumblr: On Twitter: @aljiratweets On Instagram @aljiraart.