Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at the Brooklyn Museum

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Casey, Allyson and I at the Brooklyn Museum.

During the early winter, Casey and Allyson and I met up at the Brooklyn Museum to see the exhibit,  Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power. 

When I arrived at the museum, Casey was there waiting for the both of us and had already passed about 20 percent of the exhibition, which was okay since I had already saw the exhibition twice.

My friend is coming to join us.

Oh, okay.

She said she’s here but she probably is still on her way…you know how that goes.

Yep, I certainly do. We both laughed.

While we waited for Allyson to show, Casey filled me in on different art mediums. Even though I saw the exhibition twice; I had walked past certain work I did not understand. That was the work that excited her.

Like,  Noah Purifoy’s work.

 

I love Noah Purifoy, she said, this medium is not mixed media nor is it statues, its more of ‘assemblages’. It’s one figure made using different types of materials… He collected material after the riots and made assemblages”

Only then, did I look in the case… and the nails and wood meant something.

We viewed his untitled, cased in work. On the top sat a head. Under the head a body of wood and in the wood, nails. A whole slew of nails. The only part of the figure without nails was the circular wooden head (this is as far as I can see).  I understood this assemblage as the whole body of pain. The brown body in pain. The brown community in pain and the nails just stay there. Some times the nails are removed and the pain is not so severe anymore but then, they return.

After viewing Noah Purifoy’s work we looked at John Outterbridge and Betty Saar’s work… work that I had passed before.

Outterbridge’s About Martin  evoked thoughts about the 1970’s. I thought about  King walking the earth and fighting for a people who had been taught to turn the other cheek. He fought with that cheek. The one they had turned for generations. He fought with love and peace. Who would have thought that fighting in this way would bring change?  I scanned the Moneta Sleet Jr.’s photo of Coretta that sat in the upper left corner of the open casket.

Betye Saar’s, Liberation of Aunt Jemina, wasn’t too far from Outterbridge’s About Martin. I didn’t know what to think.  Is this really an image of liberation? This idea of being liberated…and putting it with an image of a woman with a gun and raised fist suggests to me that liberation has an image. Freedom looks like something. But does freedom look like guns or peaceful protest?

When Allyson arrived we viewed work from more artist.  With Hammons we discussed 70’s slang. I had no idea ‘spade’ was a derogatory word.

Of course we discussed Sam Gilliam’s work. His canvas’ were eye catching.

There were some images, I kept my views to myself. I didn’t want to discuss it so much. Viewing One Nation Under God by Timothy Washington, gave me chills. It made me think of the reconstruction era and the time now. Don’t expect much, it seems to be saying. Don’t put your hopes high. Blacks are still waiting for their 40 aces and a mule.  I also was moved by Charles White Wanted Poster. The wanted images have grown since then. How much different is this poster  from the poster that sits in the office with all the innocent slain black and brown people? 1619- 19?  is now changed. 1619- 20?.

I watched and listened as the two artist conversed about the art and gave their honest opinions. They spoke about the art as if they were giving and listening to good gossip. It was that good of a conversation.

My critical eye among Casey and Allyson had a voice and they were interested in what I had to say as well, about what I saw and how I saw it.  Listening to them helped me to understand terms I read on the wall (that without my phone meant very little to me).

It also helped that they lived during the 70’s.

After we saw Howardena Pindell’s work, we moved pretty quickly through the hall.

We sat down and over broccoli soup Allyson told me about the art in the Fergus McCaffrey which lead to a conversation about race in Canada and the history of the Underground Rail Road….

  • learn more about Nova Scotia (which I found out, my principal’s family is from there)
  • look up information on enslaved Africans who were given freedom to travel back to Africa around 1719 or…something
  • learn about The Underground railroad that went all the way to Mexico and through the west…because to run all the way North wasn’t that safe for enslave people who lived in the deep south (did not know that one…)
  • When I am ready to travel to Chicago tell Allyson so she can hook me up with her friend who lives there

 

 

 

Pinkster at Philipsburg Manor

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On May 19, I attended a Pinkster celebration at Philipsburg Manor  in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

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Pinkster is a holiday that was brought to what is now America, in the 1620’s by the Dutch. To the Dutch, it was a religious holiday. However, all of that changed by the early 1800’s.

Pinkster was mostly celebrated in the Dutch settlements- the Hudson Valley, northern New Jersey and western Long Island. These areas had huge populations of enslaved Africans from the 1600’s until 1827, the year New York received it’s emancipation. During those years in between, Pinkster became a holiday for enslaved Africans. They took the holiday and changed everything about it. And the Dutch? Well, they began to celebrate  American holidays like July 4th.

For enslaved people, the year offered few holidays or breaks from tedious and often grueling work.  Pinkster became the most important break in the year. It was a time for  gathering in rural areas or at urban markets, a time to enjoy temporary independence, make money, and purchase goods. More importantly, Pinkster meant the opportunity to reunite with family and loved ones and the chance to preserve, reshape, and express African traditions despite the restrictions of enslavement.

While I was at the celebration,  I was surprised and happy to run into a little second grader from my school. When it was time to participate in African dance, we danced together.

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Today Pinkster is celebrated at Philipsburg Manor, a nationally significant historic site in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Djembes and Dance, which features a re-creation of a colonial Pinkster festival, is a fun, educational event for visitors of all ages.

The event acknowledges both the oppression of slavery in New York and the ultimate triumph over it. It is the only authentic re-creation of Pinkster in North America, combining some of the most vibrant elements from over a hundred years of Hudson Valley Pinkster celebrations. From the Dutch tradition come children’s games like ninepins and stilts, special baked goods of the holiday, egg-dyeing, and European-style country dancing. From the African tradition come storytelling, drumming, dance, a grand parade, and the election of a Pinkster King.

Being at Pinkster gave me a very little feel of how slaves used to live.  With the help of historians and artist, Kim and Candace, I learned what they planted in their gardens and how they made clothes. I learned what type of clothes they used to wear and what seeds they would use to make ink….if need be.

For example, slaves in the north mostly wore linen and wool but not cotton. They tended to the sheep which produced wool. Every spring they sheered the sheep, and spun their wool into yarn. Their linen came from the flax plant.

As far as clothes, women used string and men used buttons. Neither used zippers.

They were very resourceful. They made their own thread out of linen for the candles that they also made. They made their brooms out of corn husks, and used daffodil heads, onion skins and golden rods to make aprons.

I was told to check out another event called,  sheep to shawl to find out more about the process of things slaves used and how they survived with the material they had.  IMG_4403

Here is one photo of the document listing foods they had in their garden:

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I also met culinary historian and author of The Cooking Gene, Michael W. Twitty. 

I found myself in conversations with Dr. Celesti Fechter and others about the history of food and human movement within the America’s during the slave era.

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While I was there, the  gristmill was under restoration so I did not get to learn about the mill during the tours. However, there was a video screening providing history about the slaves that lived on the plantation and how the mill affected their lives.

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