Wellesley in Philly for Black Art Experience – Update

This is a long overdue update on my trip to Philadelphia with my Wellesley students on Friday, March 23, 2012.

The walking tour of Philadelphia was a true highlight! Joel Dankoff, architectural historian and Friends Central School high school history teacher (and my dear friend that graduated with me from Wesleyan University), guided us from our hotel, Alexander Inn on S. 12th & Spruce to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a nearly three hour and three mile tour of the city.



There was truly no better way to understand the history of the city of Philadelphia as we were able to go to the top floor of the historic PSFS Building, stand in the interior courtyard of City Hall, pose in Love Park, leading to a wonderful tour at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

City Hall on a beautiful day
Wellesley LOVES Philly

Tour of the American, Modern & Contemporary Collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with Rebecca Mitchell
Dr. Leslie King-Hammond delivering the keynote address, "Ashe to Amen."







We spent the afternoon touring the Philadelphia Museum of Art collections. On Friday night at the PMA, and then all-day Saturday at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the students attended the symposium, Faith, Identity, and History: Representations of Christianity in Modern and Contemporary African American Artfurther enhancing their knowledge and context for African American Art as explored in our seminar. Dr. Leslie King-Hammond,  delivered the keynote address, “Ashe to Amen: Biblical Imagery and The African American Experience.”

Can You Paint FAITH?

Moe Brooker does! I’ve interviewed him, and I believe him. I’ve titled my talk, “To the Glory of God (TTGG): Moe Brooker’s Painted Faith” at the upcoming symposium, Faith, Identity, and History: Representations of Christianity in Modern and Contemporary African American Art,” sponsored by the Association for Scholars of Christianity in Art History (ASCHA). Here’s why…

Throughout his more than four-decade-long career in the arts, Philadelphia native Moe Brooker, has created a distinctive artistic language that calls out to viewers to not only look at his works as arrangements of patterns, colors, and shapes on canvas or paper, but also as investigations into the human spirit. His paintings are as multi-layered and complex as the people who have the opportunity to encounter them. Jazz music and his spiritual grounding, along with his general experiences as an African-American artist have contributed to the energetic, abstract mixed-media paintings. The painting process as a daily devotion for him, he asserts, is “almost like a prayer…and what passes through me is not of my own invention. It comes from the higher Being…It’s not church. This is my private worship.” You’ll have to come to the symposium to hear more (including a recorded duet between him and his wife, Cheryl). The Alumni Sales Gallery at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts will also feature Moe’s work. He’s an inspiration for his students at Moore College of Art & Design. See his poignant and engaging 2010 convocation at Moore (click here). Wouldn’t you love to be his student?!

The Symposium: On Friday, March 23 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art & Saturday, March 24, scholars will explain–and challenge–our understanding of how African American artists painted, sculpted, photographed, and plain ‘ol lived their faith through the expression of visual arts from the turn of the 20th century to the present. The symposium will take place in conjunction with the enthralling exhibition, Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spiritcurated by my University of Delaware grad colleague, Anna O. Marley. Early registration for the symposium ends March 14! The exhibition closes April 15. You don’t want to miss this many Tanners in one room! The New York Times agrees. Read the review of the show.

For more on what I’m art historicizing about this spring, see What’s Next…

The Grind: A Black Academic’s Non-academic Response to “Going Natural”

I did it, y’all! I took out my extensions which held my relaxed hair beautifully for the last two and half months, and I did the BIG CHOP (BC)! I now have a TWA (teenie-weenie Afro). It’s a vibrant shade of brownish red. I’m loving it!

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that relaxing my hair has been an affront to the race or anything. Frankly, I’ve enjoyed having my relaxed hair. I say this is a non-academic response because, of course, I’ve read many-a-article about the significance of hair in the black culture. I’ve written about hair in relation artists like David Hammons, for example, in my dissertation! I actually had to recently revisit Angela Davis’ article, “Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, and Nostalgia” [Critical Inquiry, vol. 21, no. 1 (Autumn 1994), pp. 37-39, 41-43, 45] for something I’m working on now. So, I know how to break down the sociological and psychological meanings of black hair in the American society. But this is not the space for that…right now.

For me, it was just time to change. Perhaps since I’ve had change so much with my move to Wellesley, why not one more change?! There is something nice about being at a small liberal arts college that makes you feel like you can be who you wanna be with great acceptance. Living essentially on a women’s campus makes me feel even more comfortable. I had no idea what my natural hair was like. I, too, succumbed to the jheri curl at an early age (maybe 10 y/o). I know that it is going to be a journey only because I will have to learn how to take care of my hair in a different texture.

What really worried me was being in Boston (no offense to my New England sister-friends). I knew I’d feel much more comfortable transitioning if I were able to get to my stylist of 11 years in Philly. She’d be able to hold my hand and make sure I didn’t look wack along the way. So, I decided to head down to Philly to get the job done at Asanti Hair Studio. Phew! Haircut was a success. I think the greatest complement that I received from my good, good girlfriend was that my haircut and color match my personality: chic, fun, and not conservative (the way my relaxed hairstyles seemed to suggest). Here is a sample of photos taken from August 2011 to January 2012.

August 2011-Relaxed and highlighted
December 2011-Beautiful, no-fuss braids
January 21, 2012-The Big Chop!
I think the color really sets the style off!

I’ve visited a lot of websites to help me along the way: curlynikki.com (how could I not?), missjessiesnaturallycurly.comAfrobella.comKim Coles’ You Tube adventures, along with other blogs and twitter feeds (#naturalhair). I even had some twitter followers encourage me along the way. I feel comforted and guided. It’s so cliché, but I do feel liberated! Yes, liberated from the chemicals. Liberated from feeling the need to straighten my hair in order to know what to do with it. Liberated from insecurity. Me, insecure? What?! My friend warned me that I’d feel a little more vulnerable, raw perhaps. I do feel exposed, but in a good way. Hey, this is ME! Take it or leave it!

For more stories on how I’m on The Grindclick here.

Art History Symposium: History, Identity and Faith – March 24-25, 2012

So proud to announce the final schedule for the Association for Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art (ASCHA) Symposium:

History, Identity and Faith: Representations of Christianity in Modern and Contemporary African American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on Friday, March 23 and Saturday, March 24, 2012. 

The symposium coincides with the exhibition, Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit at PAFA, curated by my UD colleague, Anna Marley. The show opens on January 28, 2012! Our keynote speaker will be Leslie King-Hammond. She will give a talk at the Philadelphia Museum of Art titled: “From Ashe to Amen: Biblical Imagery and the African American Experience.” Leslie is a renown artist and scholar of African American Art who serves as the Founding Director of the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute of Art.

I am a co-chair, but I will also give a paper at the symposium on Philadelphia-based artist, Moe Brooker: “To The Glory of God (TTGF): Moe Brooker’s Painted Faith.” I will highlight his deep commitment to his home life, faith, and the importance of music. Moe will have a small show up at PAFA, “Moe Brooker: The Evidence of Things Not Seen” from Feb. 8-April 15, 2012

Please see the brochure below or the ASCHA website for details:

ASCHA Symposium PHL2012


Please Circulate

Q: What is COOL? A: Barkley Hendricks

It’s 2012. I’m back from a long break. The joys of motherhood demanded time spent at home over the holidays with two little ones who really could care less that I want to have some physical and mental space to blog. Pa-lease. But, I’m back. With four talks lined up on four different artists (see what’s next), I’ve got a lot of ideas that need to take shape soon. And, as promised, I’ll be working on an article about me and my mommy phd friends (I’ll try to provide some teasers on that).

So, I’m continuing to work on funk rocker Betty Davis. Along with her gritty sounds and no-nonsense sex appeal, she provides an almost surreal sense of coolness that is undeniable. It got me thinking about how I’ve thought about visual representations of cool in the past. Below is an excerpt from a study I conducted for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and their African American collections. Barkely Hendricks, a Professor of Art at Connecticut College, has been defining cool for the last four decades. His retrospective The Birth of the Cool organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University practically canonized his stake on cool. Here’s my take on the PMA’s Miss T by Hendricks from my unpublished paper, “Cooling Black Skin: Selected Portraits in the African American Collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”


According to African art scholar Robert Farris Thompson, “An aesthetic of cool,” signifies “the sense of a deeply and complexly motivated, consciously artistic, interweaving of elements serious and pleasurable, or of responsibility and of play.”[1] For example, in observing Barkley Hendricks’ portrait Miss T (1969), one easily gets a sense of what is “cool” about her. Her introspective glance downward from behind her gold-rimmed glasses while standing casually in her black pantsuit with shiny embellishments around her waist exudes a coolness about her that is unrehearsed and smooth. Miss T is presented without the context of her surroundings of, perhaps, a Philadelphia streetscape. She is calm. She is confident. She is at peace before the onlookers’ glare, caught up in her own thoughts of problems or dreams. Hendricks’ placement of the figure before a bare, vacant background, allows Miss T to be absorbed into the canvas with just her very presence. Hendricks provides her with a certain amount of power and agency, and perhaps this self-possession is the origin of her coolness.

[1] Robert Farris Thompson, “An Aesthetic of the Cool,” African Arts, v. 7, no. 1 (Autumn, 1973), p. 41.


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