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Movers & Shakers

We See You: James Green

This museum curator—and rock art enthusiast—is bringing a fresh eye to African art installations at Yale

The people—young, old, and everyone in between—who most intrigue us.

Why we’re watching him: The South African born, Oxford-educated Associate Curator of African Art at Yale is bringing critics, museum-goers, and students together with groundbreaking exhibitions—and still manages to show up at all the right parties from Manhattan to Maputo.

Pedigree: Green grew up on his family’s farm in Kalahari in South Africa where he spent a lot of time looking for rock art created thousands of years ago on the walls of caves near his home, according to Zip06. After Oxford, Green got his PhD at University of East Anglia and took a pit stop at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC before landing in New Haven.

Still rocking out: “Rock art was my first love,” he confessed to Zip06. “It’s really such an important art tradition that is not represented in gallery space.” Green is set to change that.

Catch him in the wild: In between frequent trips to and from New Haven and the Congo, you can catch Green at smart art parties with pals like Stella Schnabel and Rachel Feinstein.

Don’t be fooled: Green, (that’s Dr. Green to you) may look like he stepped out of Brideshead Revisited but he is no louche lad. Need proof? His dissertation focused on the art of the Teke people of West Central Africa from 1880 to 1920 and involved fieldwork at Mbe, Republic of the Congo. His next project is a show dedicated to the Nguni diaspora in early 19th century southern Africa.

James Green and his research team Nomawonga Khumalo, Siyabonga Mkholo, Jesus Chilaizya, Princess Shashanzi Jele, Ackson Ngoma, Ntuthuko Khuzwayo.
James Green and his research team—Nomawonga Khumalo, Siyabonga Mkholo, Jesus Chilaizya, Princess Shashanzi Jele, Ackson Ngoma, Ntuthuko Khuzwayohe—at the 2024 Nc’Wala First Fruits Festival in Chipata, Eastern Zambia. Photo by Jabulani Dhlamini

Location is everything: Green is bringing more than a fresh eye to installations at Yale, he is focusing on how the museum got the goods. “We are really looking into the provenance and history, and looking into whether we have any objects we shouldn’t have,” he told Zip06. Along with making sure objects end up in their rightful place, he hopes to remind people that much of the art can still be seen in Africa, Green told the Yale Daily News.

Party spirit animal: The eland, an ox-like antelope, which was spiritual inspiration to prehistoric hunter-gatherer people and often found in cave art. It is versatile, sociable, and fleet of foot.

Prediction: Green’s exhibits will continue to strengthen the link between ancestral and contemporary art—and the link between Manhattan and New Haven. Now, if only he would go on the record about his favorite pizza place there.

Hero photo by Jabulani Dhlamini

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