Tuesday, September 22, 2020

North Carolina Museum of Art Reopens, Showcasing Senegalese Fashion Exhibit

Ruth Samuel | September 16, 2020 | Story #3 for MEJO 253 

North Carolina Museum of Art Reopens, Showcasing Senegalese Fashion Exhibit 

 RALEIGH, N.C. --- After its closure in March due to COVID-19, the North Carolina Museum of Art reopened on September 9 with new social distancing guidelines and an exhibit featuring the style of Senegalese women, led by the museum’s first African art curator. 

 Director of Member & Visitor Experience Janis Treiber said that Gov. Roy Cooper announced moving into Phase 2.5 on September 1, thus allowing aquariums, museums, and more to open three days later. During the closure, new protocols were set in place, such as creating one-way paths for easier, safer viewing and mandating masks. 

“We did get rid of everything that we hand to guests just to be able to maintain that distance and cleanliness,” said Virginia Ambar, the museum’s member & visitor experience and Tessitura manager. “Maybe you don't have a smartphone to scan a QR code, so we will have printed maps, but we are trying to limit that as much as possible.” 

Although the museum welcomed over 700,000 visitors last year, only 80 people per half-hour are allowed in both the West and East buildings. Approximately 30% of staff members were furloughed for financial reasons, and this is the first time the museum has had ticketed versus non-ticketed exhibitions. 

Treiber said, “The ticketed exhibitions are the special ones that are traveling, that we don't own, and that aren't in our permanent collection. They're here for maybe a three-month or four-month period, and we pay to bring them here. It's just a matter of covering that.” 

Available until January 3, “Good As Gold: Fashioning Senegalese Women” is a collaboration between the North Carolina Museum of Art and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington D.C. 

Amanda Maples, a visiting professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and the first full-time curator of African art at the museum, said the exhibit is about seeing how jewelry and fashion empower and allow women “to make claims to the city and to have control over the narrative.” 

As for the display, COVID-19 prohibited couriers and handlers from accompanying fragile pieces, which forced 16-year industry veteran Maples to pivot. 

“20 of the works on view could not be installed because they are either very fragile themselves or they have very intricate mounts. For those 20 pieces, we created lifelike representations of them in a purple sheen. There are QR codes you can scan with your phone to get video and great, high-resolution images of those works since you can't actually see them in person,” Maples said. 

41-year-old Maples said that though she can never fully grasp the Black African experience as a white woman, she sees her role as a conduit in amplifying African voices and challenging accessibility and inclusion in the arts. In Maples’ art history lecture, Carolina senior Ajani Anderson viewed the exhibit virtually for the first time. It not only enhanced her understanding of her place in the art world, but also her knowledge of the African diaspora. 

“I think it’s easy to stay in this western bubble and either subscribe to those western stereotypes of other diaspora cultures, or to see Blackness as victimhood, and not understand our ties and origins globally,” said the 21-year-old Durham native. “The exhibition really challenges notions of an impoverished, isolated and victimized Africa, and it shows the tenacity and creativity of it instead.” 

For Duke University sophomore Sydney Reede, a museumgoer whose mother is from Sierra Leone, the exhibit exposed her more to her West African roots. 

18-year-old Reede said, “I've never been back to Sierra Leone. I just always hear my mom talking about her experience growing up and I haven't been able to experience it myself outside of her cooking. Being able to see more into the culture, the typical way of dressing was so nice. I do feel like it’s filling in a little bit of a gap.” 

Before COVID-19, the museum was open six days a week on Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with occasional extended hours for events. Though there will no longer be events or catering, the museum is now open to the public on Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Black August in the Park Adjusts Despite Pandemic & Protests

Ruth Samuel | September 2, 2020 | Story #1 for MEJO 253

Black Community Black August in the Park Adjusts Despite Pandemic and Protests 

RALEIGH, N.C. --- On August 29, the sixth annual Black August in the Park celebration took place at the State Fairgrounds in new form of a COVID-19 conscious tailgate festival, despite a citywide curfew due to protests against police brutality.

“[Black August in the Park] came from the idea of creating a liberating space for Black people considering gentrification that was going on, especially in Durham, which is rich with Black cultural history,” said co-founder Crystal Taylor. “We created the event around bringing awareness to Black August, to Black liberation and the need for a peaceful, safe space to celebrate being Black.” 

Dating back to the 1970s, Black August commemorates Black resistance, originating from the wrongful incarceration and assassination of Freedom Fighter George Jackson. Thirty-seven-year-old Taylor launched Black August in the Park with co-founders Moses Ochola and Ja’nell Henry in 2015.

Taylor said, “It's open for anyone to join who is celebrating Blackness or the Black Diaspora. We don’t have vendors so people can focus on the meaning behind the event. We have social justice organizations, food trucks, and DJs that play family-friendly music, so people from kids to elders can attend. It’s really like a big family reunion or homecoming.” 

The event is typically hosted in Durham Central Park; however, to make ample space for vehicles and adhere to COVID-19 regulations, Black August in the Park became a “Pull-Up” at the North Carolina State Fair. Each tailgate space was “roughly the equivalent of two parking spaces” and oversized vehicles (i.e. limousines, RVs, etc.) were not permitted. 

To offset audio/video, staging, and venue costs, tickets were sold for the first time — per vehicle, not per occupant. Spaces were available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and a virtual live stream was broadcast on the site. 

“I think it’s a very good look. It’s very creative, and it gives people the opportunity to have a good time, shop, eat, and still be at a safe distance. Life doesn’t stop even though we’re in a pandemic. We can still enjoy ourselves,” said Lala Aldridge of Afro Soca Love. 

Based in Atlanta, Aldridge is the head of marketplace and partnerships at Afro Soca Love, a collective dedicated to strengthening the Diaspora by “using facets of Caribbean Carnival and African culture.” ASL has collaborated with and offered DJ services to Black August in the Park for the past three years.

Aldridge said, “Some of our most key people were either born or died in August, from Chadwick Boseman to Aliyah to Michael Jackson. To have events like this when we’re experiencing civil unrest and we’re still finding time to protest, to fight, and to get together and commune, I think it means even more now. Now, we have to pay attention to each other.” 

In light of recent instances of police brutality and the upcoming election, paying attention to each other means educating the community on political engagement. For this reason, social justice organizations like SpiritHouse Inc., and Black Youth Project 100 were featured at the event. 

Founded by National Director D’atra “Dee Dee” Jackson in 2016, the Durham chapter of BYP 100 has been working at Black August in the Park for three years now. UNC-Chapel Hill junior De’Ivyion Drew serves as their membership co-chair, welcoming new faces into the fold and teaching them about Black freedom.

“We printed out previews for our Black August 2020 political education syllabus that we had. It has interactive links, videos, and quizzes to bring folks to speed about the history of Black August and the political events that happened," Drew said.

Historically, BYP100 is afforded a tent to promote merchandise and more materials. Due to COVID-19, only their informational video was displayed on the screen, eliciting cheers, raised Black Power fists, and honks in support of justice and liberation.

“It was really powerful,” Drew said. “I think Black August in the Park, a Black autonomous space, is really where movement work is sustainable. Everybody’s freedom is dependent on one another and without community, you’ll have burnout. It seems like 2020 is the most anti-Black year yet, but it’s moments like those that are really worth it.”