Recently opened in fall 2014, the newly established Ethelbert Cooper Gallery features contemporary and historical exhibitions and installations of African and African American art organized by the gallery and will often feature guest curators, faculty, artists, students, and distinguished visiting scholars. It hosts a wide range of dynamic workshops, artist talks, symposia, lectures and performances that engage audiences with diverse art archives and cultural traditions from all over the world.
Located in the heart of Harvard Square, the gallery provides a stellar site of intellectual engagement for the research institutes and archives of the Hutchins Center; interdisciplinary arts initiatives across Harvard University; and artistic inquiry and engagement of the public art communities of Cambridge, greater Boston and beyond.
The new gallery, designed by renowned architect and innovator David Adjaye, of Adjaye Associates, includes 2,300 square feet of exhibition space, and state-of-the-art auxiliary spaces for seminars, conferences, and educational programming. The gallery has been made possible by the generous support of Liberian entrepreneur and philanthropist, Ethelbert Cooper.
Photo credit: Dean Kaufman
About Ethelbert Cooper
Mr. Cooper, who was born in Liberia, has been a very active entrepreneur in the African natural resources sector since an early involvement in his country’s mining sector in the 1970s as a young adviser to the country’s finance minister. In 1984, Mr Cooper played the lead role (through his company ICB Ltd) in arranging the transfer of a 25% ownership stake in Liberia’s largest industrial project, the Lamco Joint Venture iron ore mining project (initial capital investment in the early 1960s, US$600 million), from U.S.-based Bethlehem Steel to the Liberian government.
ICB then subsequently managed the 25% stake in the Lamco project on behalf of the government, and was involved in organizing relevant working-capital financing and ore-marketing arrangements. In 1989, through another company, AMCL Ltd, a group led by Mr Cooper assumed full day-to-day operating control of the Lamco Joint Venture from the project’s former principal Swedish owners and managers. AMCL successfully ran the entire project until 1992, when operations were forcibly suspended because of the Liberian civil war. During the same period of time, a separate company controlled and lead by Mr Cooper, Consolidated Iron Resources, developed and successfully implemented an innovative program to export direct reduced iron from Nigeria to steelmakers in Spain and the UK, employing Liberian iron ore concentrate as feedstock.
During the latter half of the 1990s and early 2000s, Mr Cooper devoted most of his professional efforts to local black-economic-empowerment, and related financial-services, shipping and internet, ventures in South Africa and Malaysia. Commencing in 2004, Mr Cooper was the principal founder of a London-based, Africa-focused, oil and gas exploration and production company, Afren plc. During the period of Mr Cooper’s direct involvement, Afren grew from being a start-up company into a large enterprise which, at its peak, produced 50,000 barrels of oil per day, held assets in twelve countries in Africa and the Middle East, and had a stock market capitalization of circa US$3 billion. In 2012, Mr Cooper substantially reduced his involvement with Afren, in order to focus his attention on other projects. Regrettably, Afren was subsequently disbanded, and its assets sold, in 2015, as a result of management problems which came to a head long after Mr Cooper’s departure without connection to him, and which coincided with the sharp fall-off in the price of crude oil in 2014-16.
Since 2006, Mr Cooper has acted as the founder of, strategic adviser to, and a major shareholder in Gasol plc, another London-based company. Gasol is leading initiatives to enhance the operation of the intraregional West Africa Gas Pipeline, including gas-supply contracts with national utilities and the construction of new electric generating facilities in strategically important locations, all within West Africa. Gasol also recently sold a large stake in a new gas-fired electric power station in Malta, after leading that project from its inception to the implementation phase.
In addition, in 2011, Mr Cooper was the key player in the formation of International Mining & Infrastructure Corporation plc (“IMIC”), a London-based company which is developing major iron ore projects in West and Central Africa, including company-owned assets in Cameroon. In 2014, IMIC purchased its Cameroonian assets through the acquisition of London and Toronto-listed Afferro Mining at a cost of US$200 million. Despite the current negative market conditions, IMIC raised a further US$22 million during the second half of 2015, to support the cost of ongoing project feasibility studies in Cameroon. Mr Cooper currently serves as IMIC’s chairman.
Elsewhere in his public life, Mr Cooper is a member of the Advisory Board of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University, and he is a member of the President’s Council of International Advisors and of the renowned Sterling Fellows at Yale University. Also at Harvard, Mr Cooper has directly sponsored the creation of the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art at the Hutchins Center. At Yale, he has personally endowed the Yale Africa scholarship fund for deserving African students, with an initial founding grant – more African students now attend Yale than ever in the University’s history.