Peniel Joseph Challenges Juneteenth
June 19th marked by the 4th Annual Juneteenth Emancipation Observance on the grounds of the Museum presented by the Boston Juneteenth Committee and the National Center of Afro-American Artists. The featured speaker was Dr. Peniel E. Joseph, a leading public intellectual of our times, and founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and Professor of History at Tufts University.
Joseph, author of "Waiting ‘til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America", and other books, challenged the audience of hundreds to be vigilant in guarding their human and civil rights. Earlier Juneteenth keynote speakers include Professor Charles Ogletree, Professor Margaret Burnham and State Representative Byron Rushing.
Join a community of activists
The Boston Juneteenth Committee, a volunteer group of mainly Roxbury residents, has become a great model of civil and cultural activism, as they have taken a leading role in co-producing public programs at the Museum. Initially, there focus was the Juneteenth Emancipation Celebration, but subsequently they have co-created the Annual Big Head Community Festival. Presently, they are working on establishing regular screening of thoughtful, issue-based movies followed by with discussions.
These events will benefit the Museum in building audiences, better serving the community, and they will contribute funds to help support operations.
You are welcome to join the committee and help steer it forward. Just contact us at www.ncaaa.org.
An improvisation for Emancipation
Jazz saxophonist and gifted photographer Arni Cheatham prepares to improvise a theme honoring the survival of ordeals as part of 2014 Juneteenth. He draws a parallel between the ordeal of the Middle Passage and slavery, and his own battles with cancer. Both required hope, creativity and an abiding spirituality.
The Ralph F. Browne Jr Awards
Since 2013, the Boston Juneteenth Committee and the National Center of Afro-American Artists have jointly awarded the Ralph F. Browne, Jr. Juneteenth Incentive Award to two persons in our community that have demonstrated exceptional civic and social responsibility through volunteerism and service in support of youth development. Jordan Lloyd bestowed the embroidered Kente cloth stole on Courtney Brown for her exemplary work as a media figure, entrepreneur and coach for girl’s basketball. Aaron Holtzclaw similarly bestowed the award for leadership in the arts on Vernon C. Robinson for creating and sustaining VerBaLiZation, a long-running spoken words series. Both Lloyd and Holtzclaw are previous recipients of Browne Awards.
The Browne awards are embroidered Kente cloth stoles that pass from recipient to recipient each year. Kente cloth is the royal fabric of Ghana and is exceedingly beautifully made from silk threads. A Nubian Notion, a well beloved family business based in Roxbury for decades, gave these precious awards.
Kids polish Eternal Presence
July saw the beginning of a new summer tradition when the Museum issued an open invitation for anyone to join in washing and polishing Eternal Presence, the monumental head by John Wilson that since l987 has adorned its grounds. A son of Roxbury, Wilson wants the head to remain dark even though bronze normally turns greenish when outdoor. To honor his wish, Eternal Presence has to be polished with black wax every summer.
Happily, three families came to help. The youngest helper was a babe still in arms but others children were around five or six. The oldest helper was a grandmother who wanted to make sure that her granddaughter took part in the day.
After a tour of the museum, sharing of watermelon and summer punch, the polishing was completed.
As three o’clock arrived, the last of the volunteer caretakers for Eternal Presence bade it farewell—until next summer.
A place for family reunions and community tours
The grounds of the Museum have become increasingly popular with Boston area families planning reunions. Happily, Bostonians want their visiting family members to see was a gem they have right here at home. With tables dotting the spacious grounds beneath the great oaks, they and their guests can enjoy each others company, and also take tours of Museum exhibitions as well as learning about Eternal Presence by John Wilson.
A great calamity
A memorable feature of the Museum grounds was the magnificently expansive Norway maple that crowned a slope nearby to the Museum’s entrance. This gigantic tree, perhaps a hundred years old, offered abundant shade and anchored the green that spread away toward the puddingstone fence.
Over recent years, the tree received cables to help stabilize its most far-reaching branches. On July 15, most of it fell with a great crackle, alarming all of us. Fortunately, no great damage was done. It will be necessary to remove the remainder in the spring. We kept some of its wood for a future sculpture project in honor of this beloved tree that we were sad to lose.
In August, the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists along with other collaborators in Violence Transformed co-produced an exhibition in front of the waterfall at Copley Place in downtown Boston. The show featured works by Barbara Ward Armstrong, Khalid Kodi, Mark Lassiter and Paul Goodnight.
Thousands saw the exhibition and learned of the work of Violence Transformed and of our Museum.
AAMARP and Museum collaborate
The Museum and the African American Master Artists in Residency Program (AAMARP) at Northeastern University headed by Gloretta Baynes jointly hosted Professor Phillip Kwesiga, Chair, Associate Professor, Department of Industrial Art and Applied Design, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. Professor Kwesiga spoke on his art in the context of Ugandan art and traditions at AAMARP.
He addressed an excited group of artists and scholars eager to learn more about the visual arts and design in his East African nation. The next day, Museum Director Barry Gaither gave Professor Kwesiga a tour of public art in Roxbury and adjacent communities.
Big Head Festival triumphs
After an August postponement due to weather, the 2nd Annual Big Head Community Festival took place September 13 on the Museum grounds. Jointly presented with the Boston Juneteenth Committee, the festival featured games for children and adults, open mike and performances, a fashion show, games for youth, films, discussions and workshops. A special highlight of the day was the surprise appearance of John Wilson, sculptor of Eternal Presence.
Despite the early chill in the air and the day long threat of rain, a few hundred friends, neighbors, and supporters came and supported the food and artisan vendors, and generally gave the day a feeling of warmly and conviviality. You should have been there!
East African gift to collection
During his recent visit, Professor Philip Kwesiga of Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, gave the museum a beautiful vessel that he made. A ceramic artist of international reputation, Kwesiga presented Gaither with a small amphora-shaped vessel with a Smokey gray matte glaze brightened by floral motifs.
The vessel simultaneously honors Uganda’s very old and still active tradition of utilitarian clay pots while extending the vocabulary of decorative themes for such objects into new directions.
The vessel will join other ceramic containers held by the museum including a bowl from Jenne in Ancient Mali, yabbas from the Caribbean, and a highly abstract container made by Boston-based artist Tsuya Chinn.
Through the generosity of a donor, the museum has acquired two works by the important contemporary artist James Montford. Both were from his Black Indian Girl series recently shown at the Howard Yezerski Gallery in SOWA. Black Indian Girl series, produced in 2012, uses small collages to exploration issues of race, identity, sexuality and stereotyping in America. With Native and African American strains in his ancestry, Montford’s art often probes the iconography of these groups in society.
The museum owns A Myth and a Metaphor, an earlier mixed-media work by Montford acquired by gift after it was expelled from a City Hall exhibition in Hartford, CT. where its critique of racialized boundaries in that capital city outraged politicians. Gaither intervened to support Montford’s freedom to express his ideas and point of view through his art without political censorship or interference. Subsequently, Montford gave the twelve-inch square painting to the museum.
In 1990, our museum presented Praying Shoes, Preying Shoes, an installation by Montford in which he interrogated racial stereotypes in American society. The installation was notable for its elegance and simplicity in using high-heeled shoes to suggest a configuration of praying hands.