As a member of the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE), Elyn Zimmerman is seeking to promote a strong relationship between Washington and Africa through contemporary art.
Zimmerman played a pivotal role during the construction of the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania after a terrorist attack in 1998. She told VOA that she enjoyed playing a role in the rebuilding of the U.S mission.
"I was invited to do a sculpture for the American embassy in Dar es Salaam and I had not been to East Africa. So I started doing some research and thinking about it," Zimmerman said.
During the construction, contemporary artist Zimmerman used African red-granite to create a beautiful sculpture that combined Tanzanian and American cultures.
Described as Mksuanyiko wa Marafiki, which translates to "Assembly of Friends," the sculpture was designed to help bridge the gap between the Tanzanian and American diplomatic communities.
Zimmerman said using traditional materials from Tanzania to work on the embassy was fulfilling.
"I was hoping to work with an African stone…and I was lucky enough to find some very handsome red granite. So having found the material, I began thinking about what kind of place I could create…there was a small pool of water and having these forms to stand around ten pools of water would somehow evoke the idea of a gathering place," she said.
Zimmerman said it would have been perfect if she had visited the old US embassy after it was attacked by terrorists before putting her thoughts together on the new building.
"Everything had been ideal. I probably would have gone to Dar es Salaam before designing the piece and would have looked around to see where the old embassy was and talked more to the people who were constructing the new embassy," Zimmerman said.
She said reviews about the work she did during the construction have been encouraging.
"When I was there for the dedication and the final construction of the piece, there were a number of artists from the area around Dar es Salaam, and them seemed very favorably impressed," she said.
Zimmerman described her work with FAPE as wonderful.
"I have enjoyed working with FAPE very much and in getting to know the people who work there," Zimmerman said.
FAPE is a public-private organization that works with noted American artists and architects to create and donate custom-made artwork to US embassies around the world. It is reportedly the leading non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the US image abroad through American art.
Founded as a partnership in 1986, FAPE works closely with the US State Department enable the fine art to reach American embassies.
FAPE indicates that donations include works by more than 145 preeminent American artists placed in more than 70 countries.
With its headquarters in Washington DC, FAPE has raised more than $42 million in art and monetary contributions to date.
FAPE says it hopes the custom-made pieces – created through collaboration between artist, architect and government -- will revitalize the US image abroad to transform an image which some have described as the bunker of imperialism into an center of culture and art.
According to FAPE, all of the artists it deals with donate their works of art to US Embassies abroad. These artists' gifts are tremendous, as they would normally sell for hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars on the market. But instead, artists donate them for free because of their vested interest in renewing the world-view of America and American culture.
FAPE says during the next several years, a large number of US embassies will be constructed, and the State Department has asked FAPE to commission site-specific works by American artists for many of them. In commissioning work, FAPE is assisted by an advisory committee of prominent arts professionals, chaired by Robert Storr, dean of the Yale School of Art.
Once an artist has been selected and has agreed to create a work, the embassy architects, the State Department, FAPE, and the artist work together to ensure that the art is sensitively integrated within the building and its grounds.
The works are all donated by the artists, and FAPE provides the funds to pay for their fabrication and installation. Artists in the Collection include Lynda Benglis, Louise Bourgeois, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, Maya Lin, Martin Puryear, Dorothea Rockburne, Joel Shapiro, Michael Singer, and Elyn Zimmerman.