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

 

 

 

Our Voice

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. day weekend, I felt super cold, super bless and super special.

I was super cold because it was super cold! I went to Amherst, Massachusetts to view Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards at the Eric Carle Museum and got caught in a terrible snow storm.

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I felt super blessed for many reasons…

  1. I missed my bus from Boston to Amherst and got to the museum after the event with Onawumi Jean Moss ended…but was just in time to see her!
  2. I really wanted to go to the museum for a while and went on the perfect weekend- (sometimes the cold and snow can be a good thing) not only did I get to view the very informative exhibit but Onawumi Jean Moss stayed at the museum almost three extra hours mentoring my sister and I! Which leads me to why I felt super special.

Okay, now I am beginning to think that  feeling blessed and feeling special are the same feelings…anyways…I felt this good feeling because my sister, April, knew how badly I wanted to visit the Eric Carle Museum and when I told her I was going that weekend, she willingly accompanied me and did everything in her power to make sure I enjoyed myself…minus her trying to keep me from exploring cold Boston alone…that’s another funny story.

I also felt special because the education coordinator  at the museum, Courtney, heard about our long trip there and while Onawumi gave me some lesson plan ideas, she went into the museum shop and got me a free copy of In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson and Jerry Pinkney, which is one of the books Onawumi suggested I use in the classroom.

While we were all conversing,  Ms. Custard, an assistant principal at Ahmerst Reginal High School, came in the room to check on Onawumi and joined the very intimate conversation about race and education in America.

After the discussion, I viewed the amazing art work on the walls (the exhibition celebrated illustrators who won the Coretta Scott King Award. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the children’s book award. ) and  I realized I either owned a copy of the books or knew of the books before hand. However, some I did not have…such as….

Ray Charles by Sharon Bell Mathis and George Ford – Most of the teachers in my school teach the children Fifty Nifty States which is a tune written by Ray Charles. This is a grand opportunity to introduce the Rhythm and Blues singer to the children.

I  purchased The Creation  by James Weldon Johnson and James E. Ransome at the museum. I did not know it was made into a children’s book. If you remember, I had read the poem at the Ritz Museum in Jacksonville, Florida. I shared it with the Little Flock (the children at my church) and the response was lovely.

I was surprised to see Jan Spivey Gilchrist and Eloise Greenfield’s Nathaniel Talking,  which is a poem my sisters and I memorized growing up, on the wall. This poem was in our school readers growing up. Our teachers skipped over the poem which made the poem even more exciting to read. We took the book home and memorized it…just so we could rap.

Most times it is very difficult to teach children about the lives of musicians without a children’s book which is why I plan to buy:

Bryan Collier and Troy Andrews Trombone Shorty, Frank Morrison and Katheryn Russell-Brown’s Little Melba and her Big Trombone and Jerry Pinkney and Bille Holiday’s God Bless the Child .

I should also purchase, Kadir Nelson’s We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball because I was never into sports so I am really horrible when it comes to teaching the history of sports……It just so happens that I have a little boy in my class to loves to talk about baseball since he lives right next to Yankee Stadium.

I also purchased, N. Joy and Nancy Devard’s The Secret Olivia Told Me at the museum. I always thought silhouette art was the bomb and so does my students!

Lastly, I want a copy of Benny Andrews’ Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes. I must admit that I was a bit surprised to see the same artist work in two different exhibits in two different cities for two different reasons. I learned about Benny Andrews at the Brooklyn Museum when I viewed, Soul of a Nation. When I saw his work at the Eric Carle museum, I had to double checked to see if it was the same person, which it is.