MSU Museum Exhibit Examines the Universal Nature of Work

Despite differences in geography, history, and culture, the nature of work is a shared experience. A photographic documentation of life and traditions in Benin, West Africa is the focus of a new exhibit at the MSU Museum titled On the Job in Abomey: Portraits of Working People in Benin. The exhibit features the photographs of Darcy Drew Greene, MSU School of Journalism Associate Professor Emeritus. 

“I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin from 1969 to 1971,” said Greene. “Since then I have returned twice. On each occasion I spent a month in and around the town of Abomey. During my last visit in 2016, my goal was to interact with local people to discuss what they did to make a living and how they felt about it. On the Job in Abomey: Portraits of Working People in Benin is a reflection of what I discovered.”

Among the more than 40 individuals interviewed and photographed by Greene were an electrician, a carpenter, a school teacher, a natural healer and a veterinarian. The exhibit shares the stories of the workers and some of the products of their work. For instance, along-side the portrait of textile worker Jean Jacques Yèmadjè is a tapestry he created. Other artifacts on view include an ancestral altar, ceremonial pottery, wood carvings and fabrics. 

“Darcy Greene’s marvelous images highlight what economic anthropologists term the ‘informal sector,’ the great range of ways through which people around the world make a living ‘off the books,’” remarked MSU Museum Director Mark Auslander. “Her pictures emphasize the dignity of labor and the creative aesthetics of everyday life, even under remarkably trying circumstances. The Museum is proud to showcase this celebration of work, which links us to our friends in Abomey and, by extension, to ordinary working people the world over.” 

The exhibit runs from August 13, 2018–April 30, 2019 in the Heritage Gallery at the MSU Museum, with a reception Saturday, September 22, 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m., and gallery talk with Darcy Greene at 11:30 a.m.

This exhibition is part of Michigan State University’s Year of Global Africa. This 18-month celebration highlights MSU's rich history of connection with our many partners across Africa and throughout the African Diaspora.

The exhibit is made possible by support from the Michigan State University Humanities and Arts Research Program (HARP) Production Grant.

The MSU Museum is the science and culture museum at Michigan State University and the state’s first Smithsonian Affiliate.  The museum features three floors of special collections and changing exhibits and is open six days a week free of charge (donations are encouraged). The museum is located on 409 West Circle Drive next to Beaumont Tower on the MSU campus.