Alumnus Shares a World of Art with Local Communities

RIC alumnus Justin Bibee '12 sits with a sculpture of a human figure
Rhode Island College Impact

Justin Bibee '12 has collected art all over the world. Now he's sharing it with libraries and museums as a community resource.

Thanks to his background in human rights scholarship, Justin Bibee ’12 has seen much of the world. Perhaps inevitably, he has also seen a lot of art. 

Bibee served in the Peace Corps, interned with the United Nations in Tanzania, and is currently pursuing a PhD in peacebuilding and conflict transformation at the International Centre of Nonviolence at Durban University of Technology in South Africa.

“While working in the field on human rights missions, I’ve always kept my eye out in search of local art. I have spent most of my career in different countries in Africa, so I’ve naturally been drawn to African art,” says Bibee. 

His latest project is the Justin Bibee Collection. This program was established in 2020 during the pandemic and seeks to loan pieces of ethnographic art acquired by Bibee to libraries, schools, and museums for no cost.  

“The mission of the Justin Bibee Collection is to inspire curiosity about the world’s cultures by collecting, conserving, and exhibiting works of ethnographic art,” says Bibee. “When we share culture, we have the potential to change negative attitudes and stereotypes, thus contributing to a more peaceful world. As well, I simply want to share the art that I find so intellectually and aesthetically captivating with my community.”

Bibee has found himself living in a wide variety of places. “As a human rights advocate, I often travel to remote places for months and even years at a time. This is definitely an advantage in collecting art.”

His collection features Asian, African, and Oceanic art, including carved statues and masks, jewelry, ceramics, textiles, beadworks, bronzes, and weapons from countless countries. 

“There are many ways I go about obtaining pieces,” Bibee explains about his acquisition process. “I have an art dealer that has a beautiful African art collection that I like to purchase pieces from. I also search online for auctions and sales,; as well as thrift stores, antique shops, and yard sales. But more than anything, I acquire pieces when I travel. That is my preferred way to obtain works of art. However, like most other things, I’ve needed to adapt during the pandemic and look online for pieces.”

According to Bibee, there is a direct relationship between peacebuilding and the arts. He notes, “As a student or practitioner of peacebuilding, we study and understand the important role of creativity, culture, art, and storytelling. If you study art from a specific culture, you can learn about their history, including violent conflicts and human rights violations. Arts can and have been used in understanding conflict, transforming conflict, documenting human rights violations, and preserving cultural heritage.”

For Rhode Islanders interested in seeing some of these pieces of art in person, the Warwick Public Library will exhibit pieces from Bibee’s collection from April 18-30. “I am working closely with the deputy director of the library to plan it,” shares Bibee. “I hope a lot of people get to enjoy the pieces and enjoy learning a little bit about the cultures they came from.