Artifacts of Àlá
Exhibition design for Cooper Hewitt Museum


Interior Architecture


Exhibitions and museums give us the opportunity to explore history and heritage together. As part of an ongoing collaboration with Bronx-based food, design, and art collective Ghetto Gastro, Snøhetta developed the exhibition design for Jon Gray of Ghetto Gastro Selects, which ran at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City.

Created as the 19th installment of the Cooper Hewitt’s Selects series, Artifacts of Àlá was designed as a continuation of the series to explore and interpret the museum’s extensive collection of objects through the lens of Afrofuturism. Jon Gray harnessed this perspective to curate an exhibition that tells the story of Àlá, a young explorer from the year 2077 who is tasked with recovering and reuniting lost artifacts of the African continent. Situated in a futuristic fantasy where apocalyptic flooding has disrupted geopolitics and reconfigured everyday life around the world, the objects and exhibition frame Àlá’s expedition as a curatorial voyage through Black history and create a narrative for the liberatory potential of an anti-utopian future. 

Technical details

Art, Installation & Commissions
New York, NY, USA

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum


Jon Gray
Myesha Evon Gardner
Oasa DuVerney

Interior Architect

To bring Gray’s speculative storytelling to life, Snøhetta designed a cinematic procession that pulls visitors through the exhibition as real-life objects and drawings illustrate scenes from Àlá’s fictional odyssey. These objects collide amid the sumptuous, ornate detailing of the Cooper Hewitt galleries. The drawings, created by the artist Oasa DuVerney, give visual shape to a curatorial narrative written by José Mejia. Taken along an open path, visitors experience Gray’s pairings through vitrines and floating podiums created by Snøhetta that render thought-provoking juxtapositions between the contemporary and the classic.

RITUALS ARE POWER “Preparing for each mission requires the right frame of mind and the right tools. I surround myself in ancestral cloth, sit comfortably, and drink tea. I remove my pipe from its case, pack it with omi-simi herb, and give thanks for this odd plant’s gift that provides me the power to breathe underwater.” Drawing, “álà Lighting Up,” 2020; Oasa DuVerney; Ink on paper; 10 x 9 in.; Courtesy of the artist.

Photo: Matt Flynn

GATHERING IS GLORY “Some objects I’ve kept for their aesthetic of functional purpose, and not necessarily their cultural significance. Filling this space with music makes our gatherings come alive. The sound system is Italian, I believe. It wasn’t too difficult to repair. One of my favorite books documents these lands before the deluge. It’s remarkable to think there was an entire city, millions of people, living their lives where I now adventure.” Drawing, “Back at the Headquarters,” 2020; Oasa DuVerney; Ink on paper; 12 x 8.75 in.; Courtesy of the artist.

Photo: Matt Flynn

Drawing, “Cooper Hewitt,” 2020; Oasa DuVerney; Ink on paper; 10 x 7 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Photo: Matt Flynn

RECOVERY IS RESTORATION “Recovering the Egyptian Boat of the Dead was perilous but worthwhile—a vital part of this life is understanding how our ancestors viewed what comes after crossing the abyss.” Drawing, “Mission Accomplished,” 2020; Oasa DuVerney; Ink on paper; 12 x 8.75 in.; Courtesy of the artist.

Photo: Matt Flynn

EVERY MISSION IS A JOURNEY “Draped in my Japanese kimono, I take my usual kit with me: a spearhead, just in case I need to defend myself; my camera, for documenting the journey; the odd glasses I found that help me spot locations for exploration from afar; and my mask. My contact at the African Assembly told me it was worn once by the Dogon people of Mali. I’m grateful for this connection to the past—it keeps me focused on my purpose.” Drawing, “On a Mission,” 2020; Oasa DuVerney; Ink on paper; 10 x 13 in.; Courtesy of the artist.

Photo: Matt Flynn

RECOVERY IS RESTORATION “Recovering the Egyptian Boat of the Dead was perilous but worthwhile—a vital part of this life is understanding how our ancestors viewed what comes after crossing the abyss.” Drawing, “The Grab,” 2020; Oasa DuVerney; Ink on paper; 9 x 9 in.; Courtesy of the artist.

Photo: Matt Flynn

HISTORICAL RECORDS ARE REFUGE “My study space is well-appointed and filled with the random things I’ve collected over time. Every mission reveals a new layer of history—some more familiar than others. It’s here, surrounded by these items, that I analyze each trip’s findings. Each objects has its own story. Some of them feel like they contain so much meaning that they live and breathe the same way I do.” Drawing, “X Marks the Spot,” 2020; Oasa DuVerney; Ink on paper; 9 x 10 in.; Courtesy of the artist.

Photo: Matt Flynn

Photographs of the exhibition, taken by Myesha Evon Gardner, show in each instance, how the maroon walls and clear glass of the display cases reorient and guide visitors’ bodies through the gallery, pointing us toward the objects illustrated in Àlá’s ever-evolving narrative. A trek through textures and media, the exhibition positions ceramics, textiles, posters, and 20th-century artifacts against one another to rethink the traditional curio cabinet approach to collecting, repulsing the museum’s colonial tendencies through a process of reappropriation, reflection, and refraction.

As visions of the objects reflect across the display cases, and representations of these items existing in double and triple form across the drawings, visitors are encouraged to inhabit the in between spaces, where multiple readings are possible as individual journeys and narratives take unexpected turns.

2 About Jon Gray

Jon Gray’s curiosity has taken him around the globe and has had him seated across the table from world-renowned thinkers, artists and chefs, but he’s most passionate about home. A co-founder of the Bronx-based collective Ghetto Gastro, his work honors the block-to-block shifts and overlap in international cuisine and culture that happens in his borough. The collective is committed to feeding, inspiring and growing young entrepreneurs in the Bronx. Conversations about inclusion, race and economic empowerment are explored through food, as the group occupies the crossroads of design, music, film, visual art and cuisine.

3 About Oasa DuVerney

Oasa DuVerney is a New York native, an artist, and a mother. Selected exhibitions, residencies and media include: (2021) Brooklyn Hi-Art Machine: Paradise Is One's Own Place, Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn, NY; (2021) Jon Gray of Ghetto Gastro Selects, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, NY, NY; (2020)2020 Women To Watch, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; (2020) Twenty Twenty, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT; BLACK POWER WAVE, BRIC, Brooklyn, NY (2019); Something To Say, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn NY (2018); The Window and the Breaking of the Window, Studio Museum in Harlem, NYC (2016); The Brooklyn Biennial II, BRIC, Brooklyn, NY (2016); Through A Glass Darkly, Postmasters Gallery, NYC (2012); Civic Practice Partnership Residency, Metropolitan Museum of Art (2023-2024), Smack Mellon Studio Artist Residency (2014-2015); LMCC Workspace Residency (2012-2013); The Guardian UK, UK (2019, 2015), The Independent, UK (2016), Hyperallergic (2015, 2016, 2021), Palestine News Network (2013), and The New York Times (2022, 2020, 2012, 2011). Oasa DuVerney’s work is in the collection of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. She received her B.F.A. from SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology, and her M.F.A. from CUNY Hunter College.

4 About Myesha Evon Gardner

Myesha Evon Gardner is a Brooklyn, New York-based photographer and art director originally from Cleveland, Ohio. Cultural and social examinations by the way of personal experience guides her lens, which aims to expand a historically narrow societal presentation of underrepresented people and cultures. She directly challenges the limitations of such narratives through ongoing explorations depicting themes of legacy, love, and labor, offering an intimate view on the pride, joy, and self-determination of her family members and larger community.