Denver Artists Weave AncestryDNA Into African Art Showcase

They Still Live is a journey into the discovery of self. What does it mean to be black, white, mixed, European, Native American, or other? What is the African in African American? How different am I from my neighbor?

Denver artists, Thomas “Detour” Evans and Tya Alisa Anthony have sparked a dialogue about heritage through a photography series pairing African art relics, from the Paul Hamilton collection, with African Americans from the Denver community. Each portrait is designed to start a conversation about ancestral origins and heritage and each tells the story of the models’ AncestryDNA results.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Hamilton, African Studies academic, previous Colorado State Representative and renowned collector of fine African masks and African art to ask him why this exhibition is so critical to the conversation of ancestral origins and identity.

Paul Hamilton pictured with one of his most treasured Dan masks. Photo courtesy of the Paul Hamilton Collection.

“One of my discoveries, while collecting African art, was that the genesis of Modern (abstract) art was African art. Picasso and others’ work were greatly influenced,” says Paul.

Among Paul’s prized pieces is a Dan collection that boosts nearly 100 masks, which are highly prized in the art world. Another of his most regarded pieces is his Buddha Dogo which originates from the country of Mali. The Dogons are known to have deep scientific and astrological knowledge spanning more than 500 years ago.

Paul admits, “Growing up, I was taught to despise Africa and blackness,” as it was thought to be uncivilized. It was not until he began studying history, eventually becoming a college history professor, he embarked on a life-changing journey to discover the truth about Africa and its rich history. Based on his research, Paul went on to write African Peoples’ Contributions to World Civilizations: Shattering the Myths Vol. 1. 

A Dogon statue from Mali which Paul calls his “Buddha Dogon.” Photo courtesy of the Paul Hamilton Collection.

Upon taking the AncestryDNA test, Paul confirmed his ancestors were from West Africa and coincidentally, a large percentage of his art collection hails from this same region including pieces from Mali, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Before his AncestryDNA journey, Paul had heard family legends that suggested his great-grandmother was half Native American but no such DNA appeared in his results. He wasn’t surprised by the influence of European ancestry that appears in many results and can use his DNA results to support his previous research.

“This very unique exhibit provides an opportunity for all people to explore how their ancestors influence us whether we know it or not,” Paul says. By showcasing traditional African art in a modern setting, he hopes it will inspire positive conversations for others interested in discovering their ethnic heritage. Despite the political climate, Paul hopes the They Still Live exhibit will be a small step towards progress and moving our nation forward.

Paul has dedicated his life to the arts and preservation of some of the greatest works from Africa. Outside of the masks and statues, The Hamilton Library collection includes nearly 2,000 books, magazines, newspapers, audio and videotapes, and educational items is focused on African, African Diaspora and African-American cultural and historical issues and concerns. Included are 1960s newspapers and magazines (Black Panther newspapers, Muhammad Speaks, Black Scholar, Negro Digest) and the Journal of Negro History (Carter G. Woodson) from 1916-1970.

The opening reception for the They Still Live exhibition will be held June 30th, 2016 and the show will run thru July 24, 2016 at the Redline Gallery in Denver, Colorado. AncestryDNA results of each model will be revealed at the opening reception. To learn more about this beautiful exhibit visit,