African Art

AFRICAN ART

ARTH264-Brooklyn

As an introduction to the arts of Africa, this course explores the meaning and the contexts of production within a variety of religious and political systems found throughout the continent, from Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria, to name a few. We consider important topics such as the ancient art outside the Nile Valley sphere, symbols of the power of royalty, and the aesthetic and spiritual differences in masquerade traditions. We pay special attention to traditional visual representations in relation to contemporary artists and art institutions in Africa.

The Dark Room is coming…to Wellesley College on Saturday, April 11

Third Exposure SymposiumTHIRD EXPOSURE~THE DARK ROOM: RACE & VISUAL 3RD ANNUAL SYMPOSIUM on Saturday, April 11 at Wellesley College. Free and Open to the Public. See below for the full schedule.

The Dark Room: Race and Visual Culture Studies Seminar is an extended conversation concerning the intersection of critical race theory and visual culture studies. With over 40 members from 24 North American colleges and universities, we are a group of regional and institutional variety, made up of several different disciplines and departments and different professional ranks. We meet once a month during the academic year to consider the import of recent published works heavily invested in the interstices of visualities rendered through the lens of race and empire. Third Exposure is just that, our third foray into a collective intellectual engagement of this kind. #3rdExp

Email: raceandvisualcultureseminar@gmail.com | Twitter: @raceandvisual

Program Schedule

8:30      Registration    Collins Cinema

9:00     Welcome         

Nikki A. Greene, Assistant Professor of Art, Wellesley College

Remarks

Andrew Shennan, Provost and Dean of the College, Wellesley College

 9:20-10:45 Black Lives Matter

 #AllHandsonDeck: Protest & Art/Work in the 21st Century

Olubukola Gbadegesin, Assistant Professor of Art History, Saint Louis University

 Eyes Without a Face: Inducing Compunction

Sandy Alexandre, Associate Professor of Literature, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

For The Record: Black Women, Police Violence, and The Politics of Image Making

Courtney Marshall, Assistant Professor of English & Women’s Studies, University of New Hampshire

Moderator: Sarah Jackson, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Northeastern University

10:45-11:00  Break for light refreshments in Collins Café

11:00-12:30  Enter the Corporeal

 Black Embodiment in 18th Century British Culture

Nicole N. Aljoe, Associate Professor of English, Northeastern University

 “Most Wonderfully Made”: The Curious Performances of Millie-Christine McKoy

Nicole Ivy, Postdoctoral Fellow Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society Visiting Assistant Professor of History, Indiana University

Black Feminist THOT: Dance as Visual Culture

Jasmine Elizabeth Johnson, Assistant Professor of African American Studies, Brandeis University

 On the Perils of Ephemeral Performance Art

Samantha Noel, Assistant Professor of Art, Wayne State University

Moderator: Moya Bailey, Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s and Gender & Sexuality Studies & the NU Lab for Digital Humanities, Northeastern University

11:00-12:30 The Politics of Location

Fifty Years Later: Revisiting Bowdoin College’s 1964 Exhibition, The Negro in American Painting

Dana E. Byrd, Assistant Professor of Art History, Bowdoin College

“When I see this image, I see myself”: Teachers Explore Race Through Kara Walker’s Post-Katrina Adrift

Folashade Cromwell, Visiting Assistant Professor of Education, Framingham State University

Palm Trees and Billboards: Navigating the Tropics in Art and Anthropology

Lara Stein Pardo, Faculty Fellow in the Warren Center for the Humanities, Vanderbilt University

Moderator: Courtney J. Martin, Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Brown University

 12:30-2:00         Lunch on your own

Harambee House Lunch for speakers and invited students

 2:00-3:15           Keynote Address

Coco Fusco, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MLK Visiting Scholar

Dangerous Moves: Performance and Politics in Cuba

Introduction: Elena Creef, Professor of Women’s and Gender’s Studies, Wellesley College

 3:15-4:15           Davis Museum Self-guided | Student Gallery Talks

4:15-4:30           Break for Light Refreshments in Collins Café

 4:30-6:00           Into the Light: Dark Room Members’ Publications

Nursing Civil Rights: Gender and Race in the Army Nurse Corps (University of Illinois Press, 2015)

Charissa J. Threat, Assistant Professor of History, Spelman College

Oshun’s Daughters: The Search for Womanhood in the Americas (SUNY Press, 2014)

Vanessa Valdés, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese. The City College of New York

 Domestic Disturbances: Re-Imagining Narratives of Gender, Labor, and Immigration (University of Texas Press, 2014)

Irene Mata, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender’s Studies, Wellesley College

South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration (Duke University Press, 2015)

Marcia Chatelain, Assistant Professor of History, Georgetown University

Moderator: Kimberly Juanita Brown, Visiting Assistant Professor of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Harvard University

Concluding Remarks Faith Smith, Assoc. Professor of African and Afro-American Studies and English, Brandeis University

6:00-7:00           Reception in the Davis Museum Lobby

Book table with Dark Room Members’ publications.

Co-sponsored by The Eleanor Edwards Fund, Newhouse Center for the Humanities, Partnerships for Diversity and Inclusion, McNeil Program for the Study of American Art, Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley Centers for Women, Writing Program, and the Office of the Advisor to Latina Students

Academic Programs: Africana Studies, American Studies, Art, Cinema & Media Studies, English, History, Peace & Justice Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies.

In-Transit/En tránsito in Santiago, Chile: Wellesley College Faculty Exhibition & Talk

Galería Macchina, Universidad Católica, Santiago, Chile. August 2014.

I’m excited to be traveling to Santiago, Chile this week to brag about my brilliant colleagues in the Department of Art, Music, and Cinema & Media Studies at Wellesley College for the opening of In-Transit/En Tránsito, organized by Chilean artist and Associate Professor of Art, Daniela Rivera. The exhibition takes place at the Galería Macchina at the School of Art at Universidad Católica from August 20 through September 23.

Participating artists include: Carlos Dorrien, Candice Ivy, Jenny Olivia Johnson, David Kelly, Nicholas Knouf, Phyllis McGibbon, Salem Mekuria, Qing Ming Meng, Andrew Mowbry, Daniela Rivera, Betsy Seder, and David Teng Olsen.

I’m also thrilled to be taking funk on the road! I’ll be speaking about my own research, “The Feminist Funk Power of Betty Davis & Renée Stout,” at Galería Macchina at the School of Art at Universidad Católica on Tuesday, August 20 at 6p.m. Musicologist Daniel Party will serve as moderator.

Azúcar Negra: Still Digesting Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety”

I’ve been struggling to put into words the kind of phenomenological experience I had going to see Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that no amount of preparation could actually equip you. Just being there–anxious, confined, exhilarated and unsettled–has made one of the greatest impressions on me as an art historian woman of color.

Fallen Sugar Sculpture. Kara Walker, A Subtlety. Domino Factory. Brooklyn, New York. July 5, 2014. Photo by Nikki A. Greene.

Since my visit to the Domino Factory in Brooklyn on July 5, I cannot rid myself of Celia Cruz singing out her signature refrain: “¡Azúcar!”  Her hook is not a gimmick, but rather an affirmation of her blackness. A firm recognition of the labor of many black bodies that endured the Middle Passage to the Americas to harvest crops, including sugar cane, in places like her native Cuba. The Afro-Cuban proudly asserted in one of her many classic songs, “Azúcar Negra” (written by Mario Diaz):

Soy dulce como el melao’/Alegre como el tambor/Llevo el ritmico tumbao’/Y Africa en el corazon/Hija de una isla rica/Esclava de una sonrisa/ Soy calle y soy carnaval/Calle corazón y tierra/Mi sangre es azúcar negra/Es amor y es música/ Azucar azucar negra/Cuanto me gusta y me alegra/Azucar azucar negra/Ay cuanto me gusta y me alegra

I’m sweet as molasses/Merry as the drum/I wear the rhythmic tumbao’/And Africa in the heart/Daughter of a rich island/slave of a sunrise/I am street and I am carnival/Street, heart and earth/My blood is brown sugar/It is love and music/Black (Brown) Sugar Sugar / How much I love it and it makes me happy/ Black (Brown) Sugar Sugar / Oh how much I love it and it makes me happy*

The excitement of the long-awaited pilgrimage to Brooklyn to one of the most tweeted/blogged/televised/talked about installation of the year subsided once I stepped inside. Once I finally reached the Creative Time‘s sign fully announcing the exhibition, I smelled the molasses-dripped walls of the Domino factory before I entered. The scent enveloped me as I looked around at the vacuous space containing throngs of people navigating the rust and licorice-colored puddles that gathered in the unexpected sloping corners and passages around the carefully-placed sculptures of brown-sugared “children” holding baskets.

Mammy in waiting I knew the “Mammy Sphinx” awaited my inspection, but I only wanted to glance at her from afar. I had to first take my cues from those children, some made of resin coated in sugar, others made of pure azúcar negra (brown sugar) who marked a path from the entrance towards the gleaming white Mammy-in-waiting. For me, they set the tone in the Domino factory. Walker wisely chose to let the conditions of space, time, and the natural elements take their due course, leaving those pure sugar babies purposely neglected, fallen, and broken. Those sculptures were best described by the sound poet, Tracie Morris, who stated at the Free University – NYC event, “Subtleties of Resistance,” held within the factory that afternoon, that the looming sculpture was “a ghost watching over all those sweet dying children.” Paraphrasing Morris, she describe how “their tiny load bearing bodies literally melting on the factory floor and in the shadows are the real story of enslaved labor, suffering, death. She watches them – gaze fixed straight ahead – protecting them, bearing witness for them.” An eery, but apt description.

A number of other elements made me trepidatious about approaching the “Sugar Mama” because it took time to acclimate to the environment: the (anti)ceremonial procession on a street in Brooklyn, the heat of the blazing sun outside, the coolness of the darkened interior, the scent (oh the stench), the reluctant dampness of melting azúcar negra, and the sticky floors coated with it audibly marking each person’s step within.

My attendance was tempered by meeting a former Domino factory worker, Mr. Robert Shelton. I’d learned about his presence as a volunteer through an article written by Leigh Raiford and Robin Hayes in The Atlantic, “Remembering the Workers of the Domino Factory.” As we approached the Sugar Mama — I can’t stop calling her that — Mr. Shelton’s availability to speak about his work within the building mediated my own conflict between the hands of the laborers who earned a living since the factory’s opening in the 1856 until its fraught closing in 2004 and the “art” and its substance in the hands of Kara Waker. Yes, his very presence made the history of the factory much more palpable, palatable, and extraordinary.

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After being there, I do understand why one would yell  (“Why I Yelled at the Kara Walker Exhibit,” The Indypendent, June 30, 2014). I mostly sighed in my discomfort. It’s a tough piece, and it’s even tougher watching people in inappropriate poses at the expense of the representation of the very people victimized by institutions/systems that created versions of these kinds of “sugar mamas” and their resultant destructive forces. This, despite the public protests against such postering (“‘We Are Here’: People of Color Gather at Kara Walker Show”).

Indeed, the “Sugar Mama” was formidable. She took my breath away. But, what to do with the uneasiness of having seen a black woman’s body turned into a powerful, yet vulnerable monument to the legacy of sugar? What to do about an homage to the black, female body whose site(s) of power — her monumental frame (40′ x 70′ x 90′), her kerchiefed head, her exposed vulva — put on display for close observation, critique, and praise? The respectful and powerful introspection of the “Subtleties of Resistance” really did help to contextualize the installation with the set of readings/performances staged by Free University – NYC with original sound poetry by Tracie Morris, a reading of Frederick Douglass’s July 5, 1852 speech “What to the slave is your Fourth of July?” by Brian Jones, and Sofía Gallisá reading in Spanish of Abelardo Díaz Alfaro’s 1947 story “Bagazo.” (I wasn’t able to attend the workshop and film screening afterward. I imagine that was also immensely transformative for participants.) Being in the company of Wellesley colleagues, former students and other friends who just so happened to come through, I felt in solidarity with those who were willing to thoughtfully and courteously discuss the experience.

There are so many sentiments spoken and unspoken that must still be felt, expressed, sung, and written about. My friend and Wellesley College colleague, Dr. Elena Creef, who joined me on this journey, coined a term – “A Middle Sugar Passage.” Yes, we are travelers on a different kind of 21st century “Passage” wading through the structural failures of a post-industrial collapse of manufacturing in the United States. No, we weren’t taken against our will aboard a ship from our homeland into a foreign one, but we were made to feel like we swayed within the bowels of a vessel, with a single porthole provided in one of the walls to enhance that perception. Again, I ask, where do I — do we — go from here? …back to Celia Cruz perhaps.

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Very few pieces in recent history have done the kind of work to foster the conversations that I think this installation will engender for years to come. I’ve still got my work cut out for me. Research may answer some questions, but I may never be satisfied. That, I guess, is the brilliance of Kara Walker’s A Subtlety: or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

¡AZÚCAR!

BOOKS on sugar and slavery to the rescue. Photo by Nikki A. Greene.
BOOKS on sugar and slavery to the rescue. Photo by Nikki A. Greene.* Thank you to Andreina Castillo for help with the translation of the lyrics to “Azúcar Negra.”

* Thank you to Andreina Castillo for help with the translation of the lyrics to “Azúcar Negra.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 







 

 

Notes on Addis: A Look Back

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This week, I was thrilled to see Addis Ababa listed at #13 on the New York Times’ Top 52 places in the world to visit. Why? According to the headline: “An ambitious art scene heads toward the international stage.” Anyone who has been there knows this to be true. This time last year, I got to see Addis for myself. PThe Times highlights Asni Gallery, which stood only doors away from my hotel. I had a chance to meet the gracious gallery owner, Konjit Seyoum. If you’re in Addis Ababa, go to Asni. FYI: They have a small, but delicious lunch and dinner menu.

Teaching African Art at the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design
Teaching African Art at the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design

I was initially hesitant to leave my family for three weeks (The Grind: Going to Ethiopia (Or Can Parents Really Have it All?), but I joined my Wellesley College colleagues multi-media artist David Teng Olsen and Ethiopian native and filmmaker Salem Mekuria. Salem, really was the one responsible for bringing us both to Addis. She arranged an invitation from the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design to teach the History of the Arts of Africa.  What a joy to speak to an engaged audience of students and faculty over a series of days. It was humbling, really. I had the renown artist, Bekele Mekonnen, listening. Also, in the seats sat the young artist and Director of the Netsa Art Village, Mihret Kebebe. She was one of many fine hosts that extended her friendship during my time there and even today (thanks to Twitter and email). I’m grateful for all the memories that came swirling back this week. The food. The people. The ART. 

Upon my return, I had an opportunity to thank the Friends of the Wellesley College Library directly for the funding to donate books to the Alle School’s library in the Spring 2013 newsletter.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 11.37.45 PMFor my posts from Ethiopia, see the following:

Notes on Addis: Arrival

Notes on Addis: Art in the Making 

Notes on Addis: Netsa Art Village

Notes on Addis: Departure

Editing as Collage

I miss those quiet summer days that made for a great time to experiment in writing.

A new approach to editing–cut and paste style! Pillow, pen, scissors, tape and paper.

I had a professor remark that my writing was “collagistic” in a way that mirrored the topic that I was exploring: Romare Bearden’s collages and photomontages. Wish I could say that this approach was always deliberate. Bearden was deliberate (See From Process to Print: Graphic Works By Romare Bearden). However, I’m learning to embrace this writing style which wanders between creative inventiveness and distracted chaos. I obsessively cut and paste my Word documents on the computer screen. I splice from within the document and from previously written notes, and I paste those iterations together with new thoughts and inquiries. This past summer I tried something new. I built a physical collage of an article-in-process on Bearden. One of my arguments has to do with the physicality of collage methods–cutting, pasting, arranging, and rearranging–in order to come up with a visually distinctive and multi-layered work. Bearden said this about his process of building collages:

I build my faces, for example, from parts of African masks, animal eyes, marbles, [and] mossy vegetation. . . I then have my small original works enlarged so the mosaic like jointings will not be so apparent, after which I finish the larger painting. I have found when some detail, such as a hand or eye, is taken out of its original context and is fractured and integrated into a different space and form configuration it acquires a plastic quality it did not have in the photograph.[1]

I wrestled for two weeks to finalize the article. I implemented a much more measured collage-like form at the process stage than ever before. I literally kneeled on the floor of my office, then in the serene space of the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College in the final weeks of my Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Art and Africana Studies. I accomplished a lot just in seeing my article before me. Visually tracking one argument to the next was useful. I actually went into a hypnotic zone of organizing–no music, no chair, no human interaction–except when I was home. My six-year-old walked in to see all of my papers on the floor (ah, work-life balance). She asked, “Mommy, what are you doing?” I wasn’t always sure, but I wanted something magical to happen with my writing, or, at the very least, something coherent.

I haven’t submitted my article yet. It’s still not ready. I need to cut-and-paste my way towards something inspiring in my new digs in the Jewett Art Center. Pass me the scissors!


[1] Romare Bearden as quoted in Michael Gibson, International Herald Tribune. Letter from Bearden dated June 15, 1975 [copy], Bearden Papers, AAA; Schwartzman, p. 216, 310, n21.

The Grind: Mama PhD? Yes, I can!

This is a long overdue follow-up to a previous commentary on “Going To Ethiopia (Or Can Parents Really Have It All?).” I managed to spend three weeks in Ethiopia in January teaching African Art and taking in the sights, sounds, and smiles of Addis Ababa. Some of my readers followed my journey via this website and Facebook on my experiences I titled “Notes from Addis.” It was a successful trip, and I am sure that I will return. Being a Mama PhD abroad is only possible through the immeasurable support of my husband who holds down the fort for me during my absences.

My family at the Davis Museum of Art, Wellesley College. Fall 2012.
My family at the Davis Museum of Art, Wellesley College. Fall 2012. Photo by Judith Black.

What many of my readers did not know was that I was also on the job market. The academic job market is no joke. For those outside of higher education, the fact that the entire process from initial application to phone interview to campus interview to rejection/offer can take up to six months. So, in the midst of my world travel, I had the added pleasure/stress of pursuing tenure-track positions across the country. This process required even more days away from home almost as soon as I returned from Africa. In the midst of it all–teaching, parenting, interviewing–I did land a job. If you’ve already taken a look at my title, you know that I managed to land a place on the impressive (and therefore humbling) faculty in the Department of Art at Wellesley College as an Assistant Professor of Art, the Arts of Africa and the African Diaspora, specifically. Phew!

What I think many find particularly significant is that I did this with two small children. Due to my previous posts on this website, my little ones were no secret to my potential employers, including Wellesley College. One of my friends commented on how surprised she was that I didn’t just talk about my kids, but that I joyfully marched them around campus in full view of my colleagues (my kids kind of think the campus is an extended playground)! Actually, what she said was, “If it were me, I would have kicked them in the bushes.” Ok, that sounds cruel, but I understood her concern. Kids take up an immense amount of time, critical time to write, research, attend meetings, teach, write some more, especially when you’re trying to land tenure. What can I say? I’m a proud Mama PhD! I learned a long time ago when I decided to have my first child while I was writing my dissertation that academia was going to have to accept me with all of my grown-up responsibilities of raising a family during my childbearing years. On the flip side, I have had to rise to the challenge of accepting the demands of academia with my family in tow.

While many men do take on a lot of the responsibility for child-rearing, women tend to take on the bulk of the work of raising children, especially in academia due to our flexible schedules. Even when it comes to parental leave for the birth of a child, men tend to use the time to advance their research while most women use that time to, you know, take care of her newborn (See “On Parental Leave, Men Have It Easier,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 7, 2005). For any woman struggling to advance a career in academia with a family, it is no secret that the balancing act takes the support of one’s immediate family, extended family, neighbors, friends, near and far to manage. As I juggle the summer schedule, self-imposed deadlines for articles and fall class prep are my motivation in the midst of camp and daycare drop-offs and pickups. Early mornings, late nights, and weekend work-days are the only way to accomplish my goals. Again, the supportive husband pictured above has made this compromise feasible.

My daughter spent a week taking classes at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I dropped her off and picked her up most days. An exhausting and fulfilling opportunity.
My daughter spent a week taking classes at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I dropped her off and picked her up most days. An exhausting and fulfilling opportunity.

I lean on my local “village” of neighbors (’cause it takes one to raise a child, right?) who are willing to take care of my kids in a pinch. Other times, I may just whine to my mom on the phone 200 miles away. The knowledge that I have peers and mentors who are also enduring (or who have already survived) similar situations comforts me in the midst of the struggle.

Two recent events this spring highlight a network of women who remind me that I am strong enough and human enough to do what I need/want to do as a Mama PhD. First, one my GFF’s (Grad Friend Forever), Tanya Pohrt, the Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow in American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery, defended her dissertation at the University of Delaware. She was the final member of our cohort of five who completed the doctoral program in the Department of Art History. I, along with two other GFF’s, surprised her when she emerged from the room. We each have two kids each. We each have jobs in either academia or museums. We each know the challenges faced to accomplish this tremendous accomplishment. We thought it important to mark the occasion together as fellow Mama PhDs!

The second event was Wellesley College’s 2013 Commencement. My colleagues at Wellesley are extraordinary. Again, I am humbled to join the ranks of the faculty here. I was grateful to take a photo with my fellow female scholars of African descent. Certainly scholars of color face additional stressors due to race and institutional racism in order to not only complete the PhD, but also to thrive in academia. [I’ll save my comments on race perhaps for another post. In the meantime, see the recent publication, Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia.]

Drs. Brenna Greer, Layli Maparyan, Filomina Steady, Tracey Cameron, Angela Carpenter and Nikki Greene. May 2013. Copyright Nikki A. Greene.
Drs. Brenna Greer, Layli Maparyan, Filomina Steady, Tracey Cameron, Angela Carpenter and Nikki Greene at Wellesley College. May 2013. Copyright Nikki A. Greene.

This picture will continue to remind me that there are women who struggle and achieve by my side (single, married, with and without children). I thank all of these women–friends, colleagues, neighbors–who make being a Mama PhD not only possible, but a thrill.

First Exposure Symposium at Northeastern University, Friday, April 26, 2013

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I am very excited about presenting another installment on my ruminations on FUNK at the inaugural symposium of First Exposure, the culmination of a full academic year of reading, meeting, and discussing scholarship in The Dark Room: A Faculty Seminar on Race and Visual Culture, primarily convened at Northeastern University through the rigorous efforts of Assistant Professor of English, Kimberly Juanita Brown. My paper is titled, “Personifying Funk: Lessons Learned from Adrian Piper and Renée Stout,” wherein I will discuss how both artists embodied funk, physically and philosophically in such a way as to resist the limitations of the “triple negation of colored women artists.” I will consider Piper’s Funk Lessons and Renée Stout’s Fetish #2 and her personas, in particular.

There are so many brilliant topics by scholars from across the country with keynote addresses by María Magdalena Campos-Pons and Saidiya Hartman. This symposium will be invigorating and enlightening, touching on a variety of disciplines, including Art History, Anthropology, History, Literature, Women & Gender Studies, and so much more. Come if you can, but do rsvp!

 

The Grind: Going to Ethiopia (or Can Parents Have it All?)

Ferryboat

I’m leaving on January 1 for Ethiopia to teach at the Alle School of Fine Arts & Design at Addis Ababa University. Exciting? Yes. Nervous? Oh, yes! Why, it’s a fabulous opportunity to meet students and faculty in a gorgeous country. I get to not only teach art history, but also, I suspect, learn so much about the art, culture, and cuisine of the region. I will be there alongside my Wellesley College colleagues, filmmaker and native Ethiopian, Salem Mekuria, and artist David Olsen. I tagged along with Salem to Cuba for nine days, and I managed to have one of the most significant art and cultural experiences of my life (see “Belonging in Cuba“). Dave has been there for two weeks already. He assures me that I will enjoy myself, the people, the art–everything. Bonus: I get two Christmases. Ethiopian Christmas (Ganna) is January 7.

Then, why am I so nervous? I have a family. I’m on the grind

We’ve all heard the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.” I know this more acutely than ever. When both of my children were born, I lived in South Jersey in a cozy suburb with dream-come-true neighbors with children our kids’ ages. I had a separate group of mom-friends whose friendships sustained me with non-stop playdates for our kids and grown-folk nights out when we all needed a break. Since moving to Wellesley College, just off-campus, we’ve established a new village. Faculty and staff members with children, with whom we go on walks, splash around in the kiddie pool, go trick-or-treating, and, most recently, decorate holiday cookies. That’s the village I’m depending on while I’m away.

Christmas cookie decorating with "the village" (December 2012)
Christmas cookie decorating with “the village” (December 2012)

But, let’s be honest. My husband is doing the heavy lifting. He’ll have get them ready and out the door in the morning. He’ll have to juggle picking them up at the end of the day, feeding and bathing before bed, and doing it all over again for not one, not two, but nearly three weeks! So, when I’ve announced to people that I am going to Ethiopia, most people then ask, “and you’re leaving the kids?!” Especially the moms. Some look at me with delight. Others, I can tell, look at me curiously, saying the same thing, “and you’re leaving the kids?!” I’m pretty sure those people, especially moms, are really thinking, “what kind of mother does that with two young children at home?” Or, perhaps what I may be taking for judgement of me is fascination/admiration for my husband. Honestly, neither of us truly knew what this wild ride of a career in academia would bring when we got married after my first year in grad school. I only finished up my degree in January 2010, and we’re both adjusting to my having a “real” career in a new destination (Wellesley College). In the last year alone, I’ve had to leave the kids behind to travel to Washington, DC, Philadelphia, the UK, New York, and Cuba (did I mention I was away for nine days?). That’s in the last year! Great opportunities for me, but a fine dance in communication and compromise for both of us. He’s held down the fort in a way that few fathers could manage for a day or two. I’m grateful. I’m lucky. (Well, really, I chose well).

I want to work. I want a family. I’m a better academic for the lessons learned from having children: patience, time-management, a life beyond the classroom and research. I’m a better parent for having a career: patience, time-management, a life beyond my children. I don’t want to relinquish the accomplishments I’ve made thus far in becoming “Professor Greene” nor do I want my children to feel like they are simply afterthoughts to Mommy’s lectures, articles, and world travel. Frankly, it would be much easier if we had family nearby to help us along the way. Though I’ve had an arsenal of very competent, fun, brilliant Wellesley College students to babysit, last-minute meetings, guest speakers on campus or article deadlines don’t always fit their schedules. There’s nothing like having a grandparent or auntie nearby to help out here and there (for free). Thus, my husband and I are figuring things out on our own for the most part. We negotiate schedules that include early morning and late-night work hours for me, and disruptive kid pick-up times for him. Believe me, it’s taken some creative circus-like juggling to make this trip to Ethiopia happen.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Ann-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic “Why Women Can’t Have it All” from earlier this year and if you’re a working mom, read it today. She talks frankly about what so many working mothers worry about in the 21st century. More importantly, she warns young people (not just women need to concern themselves with this) about what it will mean to have both a career and a family. Being a working parent is tough. It’s exhausting. It’s beyond frustrating at times. There are occasions when you just have to say enough is enough. Slaughter’s son needed her home. She gave up her career in the State Department in order to return to a more manageable life in academia at Princeton (wow). I have friends who have given up jobs to stay home (including dads) or taken part-time positions in order to better balance family and career. I also have friends who have been able to pursue their careers with full gusto, taking high-powered positions or starting their own businesses that require long hours and commutes. Often, for the latter group, they can afford the extra daycare or have family around to help out. We don’t necessarily have those two privileges. But, I’m still in the early stages of my career. I want (and need) to take advantage of incredible opportunities like this one I’m embarking on.  I’ve been reassured by my mom-friends that everything will go well while I’m away. Intellectually, I know that. I have a competent, loving husband and father. Emotionally, the fact is this will be my longest time away from my kids (gasp). This will be the longest time I’ve been away from my husband  (clutching pearls). I’ve had a hard time sleeping for the last three weeks thinking about my time apart from them. The Newtown shootings made me feel even more desperate to stay close to my kids than ever. But, on January 1st, I leave for Ethiopia.

I had humble beginnings in Newark, New Jersey, but I later went on to boarding school in Connecticut, a year abroad in Barcelona at age 16, and onto a career in the arts (see “I was a poor black kid…”). I want my children to know that the sky really is the limit on what they can become professionally and what it will take to get there. I want them to truly see the world for themselves and not just understand it virtually through books, television, or the Internet. I’m attempting to lead by example. Three weeks in the big scheme of things is not that long (if you’re not my husband). I won’t be able to continue to make big trips for too much longer without them. I hope to have the wisdom to know when it’s no longer feasible. Actually, one of my goals is that as the children get older, we’ll be able to take extended trips together as a family. I agree with Slaughter, women cannot have it all. But, like Slaughter, at this stage in the game, I’ve gotta try!

I expressed to a high school friend, somehow who knows me well, in other words, about my anxieties about leaving the kids. I told her how I was doing this because I wanted to set an example for them about exploring the world, but that I was terrified. Her wonderful response? “Your kids are going to love you for this!” Another good girlfriend, a mom who is also on the grind, remarked, “You will love you for this.” I hope they’re both right.

Here’s how it went:

January 3: “Notes from Addis: Arrival”

January 4: “Notes from Addis: Art in the Making”

January 6: “Notes from Addis: Netsa Art Village”

January 18: “Notes from Addis: Departure”

January 16, 2014: “Notes from Addis: A Look Back”

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