A 21st- Century connection between Art and the National Summit on Education

I found the connection between the National Summit on Education and the art at Utah’s museum of Art seasonable.

While at Utah’s Museum of Art, I came across a huge electrical wall panel created by Elias Sime from Ethiopia.

The plaque next to the ‘ Tightrope: Noiseless 1’ (it’s title) reads: Sime buys his materials at the Merkato In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the largest open- air market in Africa. It can take years for him to accumulate the necessary discarded computer parts to construct an individual work. In this series, Sime recognizes the uneasy balance between the advances made possible by technology and the impact those advances have had on humanity and the environment. Sime says, ” My work reclaims these machines in a tender way, as I am not in opposition to technology. It’s about how to balance it with “real” life. We’ve become off-balance. My title for my series of collages, “Tightrope,” has a double reaming, It’s about this equilibrium, but I also wanted it to evoke a string: if you pull it too tight, it will break.” 

The installation connected strongly with the keynote speakers at the conference. While looking at it, I had no questions, nor did it bring me peace. It was just about being in the moment while also thinking about the future.

Earlier that day, I sat in the Grand America Hotel and listened to Code.org founder Hadi Partovi, finance expert Tim Ranzetta and Professor of Applied Mathematics Dr. Steven Strogatz, map out critical skills for every 21st-Century student’s success.

Dr. Strogatz encouraged us to introduce our learners to Data Science which he said was the “modern version of statics, a fusion of many disciplines that give us opportunities touch every field.” Mr. Partovi pushed for us to teach finical literacy, especially to students in high school. As a true educator, he provided curriculum and even offered ways to teach others how to teach the topic. Tim Ranzetta also pushed technology – telling us that the vision of Code.org is that every student learn computer science.

The full video is posted on Youtube:

Almost all artist unknown in Arts of Africa Room

At Utah’s Museum of Fine Arts on the second floor towards the back is a room labeled Arts of Africa. It looks like a period room. Quite honestly, period rooms can be boredom rooms. But this one was intriguing because almost all of the art in there had no name on it. The artist was unknown for each artifact. Why?

Utah Museum of Fine Air…Arts

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is concerned about air, as we all should be.

Visitors walk into a spacious foyer and after check-in, education about Salt Lake City’s poor air quality begins.

The exhibition, curated by Whitney Tassie, is a community cry. The art lifts up the voices of people from all over Salt Lake and beyond.

The first room is filled with air and three murals. Each mural by the local artist evokes memories from the beginning of the Pandemic. El Sol Sale para todos, which translates to The sun shines for everyone is by Zully Davila and Evelyn Haupt, celebrates the transformation of Latina women during the pandemic. Blackness Brings Forth Life is by Vaimoana Niumeitolu, a social activist from Tonga who also resides in Utah. It seeks to tell the narrative of Utahns during the pandemic and food access. The last mural, Mokopuna, (which translates to grandchild or descendent) is by Bill Louis. It speaks about human protection during the pandemic.   

There are four more rooms, each one adds a layer of community concern. Will Wilson, photographer and trans-customary artist who is a citizen of the Navajo Nation, shares a triptych that conveys a traumatic history of people and land. The wall panel teaches the history of the ‘racist energy production that continues to…harm the…Diné people’. The history dates back to the 1940’s with Uranium mining on the Navajo Nation land. The energy companies tested their bombs and after the cold war, left ‘toxic material to disperse in the air, soil and water.’ Till this day, the people are dealing with this issue.

There is an AIR lab (Autoimmune Response Laboratory) also created by Will Wilson that sits in the middle of the first main room. AIR Lab is a futurist idea mixed with sankofa implications. It’s a replica of a greenhouse, taken from the sacred Diné dwelling, which shows how to remove heavy metals and toxins from the soil (grow the Four Corners potato and certain plant species) .

Across the room, the voices of politicians are heard.

The exhibition builds and tells the viewer how this problem isn’t only Utah’s problem but also an international problem. 

There is  a Smog Map next to plates created by Kim Abeles of California.The map and the plates are hosted on a grayish wall (as opposed to the previous art which is on a white wall). Each plate has a world leader (covered in smog) and one quote about the environment. Pictured here are Indian Prime Minister, Modi, Brazilian President, Rousseff, President of South Africa, Zuma and President Trump.

Prime Minister Modi quote reads, “Ultimately, for success, moderating our lifestyle is necessary and possible, for a low carbon future…”

President Rousseff says, “Brazil is one of the few developing countries to commit to an absolute goal for emissions reduction. In spite of having one of the world’s largest populations…”

President Zuma’s quote reads ” Various regions of the world have different views on the issue, simply because they are affected differently by climate change. However, for most people in the developing world and Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death. We are always reminded by the leaders of small island states that climate change threatens their very existence.”

President Trump’s quote reads: ” The United States…will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth…We’re going to have the cleanest air [and the] cleanest water.” 

The next three rooms are interactive. In one you look up and see clouds created by UMFA Community Members and below positioned neatly against the wall are books with titles like Some Days I breathe on Purpose: Learning to be a Calm, Cool Kid by Kellie Doyle Bailey and William Bryant Logan’s, Air. There is a room for meditation and Yoga. There is more installation art like lithographs by Diego Romero and Merritt Johnson’s sculpture of an oxygen tank,

In the middle of both rooms is a film by Julianknxx entitled, Black Corporeal (Between this Air). The room is extremely dark and something about the atmosphere is frightening but sweet. There is a choir that fades in on the huge screen singing one word, breath, mingled with moving images of lovers breathing with and into one another. Without knowing you are thinking about Mr. George Floyd, your mind wanders to memories of the summer of 2020 and the events around ‘I can’t breathe’ cries.   

The last room is also empty except for one tremendous plastic sculpture which highlights the housing situation in America. The Chicago based artist, Michael Rakowitz, turned his focus on the impacts of the health of ‘houseless community members.’ The plaque read ” A 2020 University of Utah study found that nearly 90% of individuals without housing in Salt Lake County had sought medical attention for a condition related to air pollution.” With instructions of how to make one at home…or in the classroom. It tells the viewer, you have read our story and you see how you are intertwined in it, now go back to your community and do something about it.

Working Together

Last year May, the Whitney had a photography exhibit on the fifth floor of the museum. The rich black and white photos identified Black people and their living conditions during some of the country’s pivotal moments – the Civil Rights Movement, the Black arts movement and the Pan- Africanism movement.

The photos were taken by the Kamoinge Workshop.

You may remember I spoke about the Kamoinge Workshop in another blog post…

Ishita and I met at the Whitney and after having a hard time finding each other in the museum (my phone died as soon as I walked in) we went up to the top floor and ran into friends from the Harlem Studio museum.

We ran into photographer, Ralston Smith and Harlem Studio companion, Tasha Douge and before long everyone was sending fiery artist vibes. It became a fun photoshoot.

History all jugged up

I am standing in front of Simone Leigh’s Large Jug in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It is included in an exhibition entitled, “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina”.

This exhibition opens up a different jug of worms. While most slave narratives of 19th Century speak about the Atlantic Slave trade and the presence of Africans in the cotton fields, viewing Hear Me Now makes the viewer think, well, what else did Africans / African Americans contribute too? What other narratives are they apart of that we know very little to nothing about? It remind us that the slave was not confined or small at all, instead, he had a large presence and was in every walk of life.

While the entire story is told from many view points, the one artist that walks away with you is Dave. Mr. Dave Drake. He found a way to live on forever through his pottery by using the very thing that could have gotten him killed, visual literacy.

Above to the left is the jug that I couldn’t stop circling around. It reads:

nineteen days before Christmas- Eve- Lots of people after its over, how they will greave,

I wonder…. how in the world did he get away with a quote like that? He seemed to share the same status as Fredrick Douglass; yet, he was enslaved!

Douglass escape slavery in 1881. Drake’s pottery was issued in 1858. This means that way before Frederick Douglass wrote his speech, ‘What, to the slave, is the fourth of July‘? Drake was already addressing the same topic throughout his pottery.

Lesson plan idea: Visit exhibit with students and allow them to write ‘what if’ stories for Dave. Allow them to create stories to fill in some of the missing pieces of Dave’s story that we do not know…

A weekend in the Carolinas

My dear friend and sister-in-Chirst, Nineveh got married last year, May.

My sister and I traveled to attend the wedding.

We landed in Charlotte, NC with a list of places to visit. The city was still on shut down. Everywhere we went was pretty much empty- outside of the church.

We landed early, had breakfast then drove around the empty city looking at construction sites and talking about gentrification (we even saw one site having a union meeting. There was a lot of shouting that filled up the sound for several blocks).

Finally we had brunch at Sister Wanda’s favorite vegan spot: Fern, Flavors from the Garden.

We were really tired by the time we got to Ratcliffe’s Flowers, a beautiful garden with structures and gorgeous plants. We didn’t even stop to smell the flowers.

The Harvey B. Gantt Center was the next stop. We heard about Mr. Gantt while sitting in the airport and looking for places to visit.

A Black architect and Charlotte’s first African-American mayor

When we walked into the center, we read the first plaque on the wall dedicated to two professors Bertha Maxwell and Mary Harper who taught in the 1960’s and were very aware at that time of the importance of the need to preserve African American History.

Next we were directed to walk up the steps where we viewed two galleries.

There was an entire exhibit about the riots of 2020 which I thought maybe the curator could have saved the show for a later time. I felt it was too soon to walk around and look at images of riots that we just witnessed last year. To see images in a gallery that are also everywhere else in the media seemed redundant. I think sometimes when an artist wait to show their work, the impact is greater.Timing is everything.

Next we saw a photo exhibit that included work from artist I knew like Benny Andrews and Charles White. All the images were own by Chase Bank-another hot topic to discuss along with the riots- a White institution lending a Black institution their possession of African American art.

I took a photo of the quote below by Whitfield Lovell. I thought it gave a great perspective of African Americans as human; he reminds us that people aren’t the struggle that they face, they are loved and most of all, they are somebody.

Overall it was very informative and we were all glad we went.

Of course we stopped in the store and I looked for something for my students. The good thing is it was filled with children books so I added a couple to my library.

Next we made a trek back home where we rested and failed to keep our promise of not being late to another friend’s wedding.

Two Celebrations

Laurel and I at Slag Gallery (in front of her piece)

First and foremost, CONGRATULATIONS to my close friend, Laurel, who had her first art show at Slag Gallery.

She spent most of her COVID-19 down time prepping for a show she wasn’t sure was ever going to take place. By the time invitations came out for the opening ceremony, things were picking back up and it was impossible for me to make it to the show.

I ended up going to Slag a day before my birthday- which made it a double celebration.

The show has been taken down by now, ( I’ve been too busy to blog lately…sorry) however, I wanted to write a little about Laurel’s piece.

Laurel’s work was a part of a group exhibition curated by Sophie Olympia Riese titled This is Not Enough. All of the artist, women:  LaTonia Allen, Ranee Henderson, Laurel Richardson, and Paige Twyman.

As the synopsis stated, These four painters explore[d] themes of self-determination, history, ancestry, social construction, and aspiration in their works, examining perception and expectation while developing a visual narrative that pave[d] a path towards the futures they see for themselves.

If I could pick a theme, Laurel’s Heart of Light in particular focused mainly on social construction. She used dye, acrylic, canvas and pins to address the role of the Queen Mother in an African village which in turn addressed the role of the mother in the African American community.

The Queen Mother is like the queen bee, it’s simply in charge. Its respected and reverenced. Her job is to keep the children safe from those who seek to destroy them.

As I continued to examine the canvas, I found faces of children hidden and woven in the cloth. From afar I couldn’t see the faces, but as I got closer, I saw the faces, boys in particular starring back at me.

For us, this piece, opened up conversation about black boys in our communities, single mothers, and police brutality.

The materials Laurel used opened up a discussion about Chicago where Laurel is from originally and her family. To construct her art work she looked at patterns and used cloth from her grandmother who is a seamstress.

After viewing the art in Slag and examining the nearby galleries we walked to the High Line Plinth at 30th St. and 10th Ave. where we took photos in front of Simone Leigh’s (another Chicago native) Brick House.

We spent the entire day in the village appreciating art and we ended our day at Worthwild, a bar-restaurant at 156 9th ave. We froze our butts off dinning on the outside, which was crazy and fun at the same time.

Laurel and I at Worthwild

Towards the end of the night, Laurel surprised me with a pumpkin cupcake. She and the kind waiter sang happy birthday and the wind blew the candle out for me.

Chloe Bass inHarlem

Late 2019, Harlem’s Studio Museum practicum fellows gathered in St. Nicholas park to hear conceptual artist Chloe Bass speak about her outdoor exhibition, Wayfinding.

She placed mirrored images throughout the park that held sayings such as There are times when I have agreed with you, only in order to go to sleep