On February 8th , my artwork titled ” Syncopations” was dedicated at Central State University. President Dr. Cynthia Jackson Hammond said “Words mean something. They make you think. But art, makes you feel something.”
Here are my remarks from the program:
Central State Artwork Dedication Remarks
As an artist, the question I’m most often asked is-how long did it take you to make that? My answer always surprises people, because I tell them it takes a lifetime.
A lifetime of learning from my mistakes. A life time of changing directions and accepting new challenges. Every project I work on gives me the opportunity to learn about different subjects and to meet inspiring people.
On my first visit here, I met with your President, Dr. Jackson- Hammond who took me on a tour of this beautiful building. I could feel the love she had for this place. She knew the names of all the students who stopped to say hello and she had a warm hug for each of them. I knew, that day, this was going to be a very special project. Her vision for the artwork was to feature Gandhi’s inspiring words and my task was to embellish and frame those words to reflect the rich cultural and artistic heritage of the African tradition.
Before I drew one line on paper, I spent weeks reading and learning everything I could about African art. I was most inspired by the “strip weaving” textiles of the people of Ghana who are considered the most skilled weavers in Africa. Their symbolic patterns are woven into 24 strips of cloth to create textiles for royalty and life ceremonies.
For weeks, I made sketches, and wove paper strips into different patterns. I tried many variations, but nothing seemed to be working. Then one morning I sat down at my drawing table looked at my designs and I knew I had to start over. Something was missing. I wasn’t capturing the passion of Gandhi’s words. So, I swept everything off the table and onto the floor. I stood up and looked at the mess on the floor and saw a new opportunity in the chaos.The scattered pieces overlapped and intersected in unexpected ways. The chaos on the floor had released me from the traditional horizontal and vertical lines. Strip by strip I put the patterns back together to create a free form, unconventional frame for Gandhi’s words. Then the artwork came alive. I could begin to see and hear the syncopations of jazz music, the drumbeats of tradition, and the poetry of rap music.
I made hundreds of handmade tiles pressed with textures to look like fabric and glazed them with rich earth tones. I added African folk symbols that represented strength, humility, wisdom, history and morality. I embellished some of the strips with glass beads made in Ghana using traditional methods that have been passed down through generations.
The black and white pattern on the right border looks like black and white piano keys. It is a traditional folk pattern illustrating that one can make a melody on either black or white keys, but one can make harmony by playing both.
And then, as if completing an outfit with a fabulous piece of jewelry, I added my interpretation of a ceremonial antelope mask. This iconic image was once used as the logo for the Smithsonian’s African Art Collection. I sculpted my antelope out of clay and after it was fired, I covered it with 23k gold leaf. If you look closely you can see her earring!
The installation here took 3 days and was quite scary. It took at least a hundred trips up and down the wall on a scissor lift to put all the pieces together. I had never been 30 ft up in the air on swaying scissor lift. I always thought I was afraid of heights. But like I said, it took me a lifetime to realize I could do it.
During the installation, we had many wonderful comments from students and staff. One student said the artwork changed the way the building felt when she walked in. She said it made her feel like people at this University cared about her. I cannot think of a more perfect complement for anyone in any profession. A teacher, a nurse, a scientist or even a politician… to make someone feel cared for.
The work may take a lifetime and the work is never easy, but to hear those words from a student fills me with gratitude to all of you. I’m sure every student here knows how lucky you are to be in this place that cares about you.
Gandhi’s beliefs, his thoughts, his words, his actions, his habits and values all say, “I care about you” and I believe that’s what it takes to shape our own destinies.
I’m so grateful, to Dr. Jackson- Hammond and the Ohio Arts Council for giving me this incredible opportunity.