The African (un)Continuum at Kean University

Human Rights Institute, Kean University, Union, New Jersey

Yesterday, The African Continuum opened in the Human Rights Gallery at Kean University. However, upon my arrival the galleries were closed.  After searching for assistance, I found a maintenance worker coming from behind a door, where I assumed the exhibition was installed.  She explained that she could not grant me access, but kindly assisted me to the person who could.  According to Mr. Hank Kaplowitz, Director of The Human Rights Institute, the exhibition “was not ready”.  Suppressing my rising frustration, I reiterated how far I traveled, the announcement on the website and my eagerness to view the show.  Without any further hesitation, Mr. Kaplowitz, escorted me to the gallery, illuminated the space, and left me to view the installation.  Before he departed, I asked if a reception would be held for this exhibition, to which he responded, “Yeah, well after we get it up, we will figure that out next week”.  The website announces the reception will be held Tuesday, January 31, from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m[1]. Hopefully, someone tells Hank.

"African Continuum: Celebrating Diversity, Recognizing Contributions of People of African Descent"

The Department of Public Information and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are responsible for the preparation of this exhibit.  The United Nations introduced the work in October 2011 at the Headquarters in New York[2].  The project was part of the UN’s year-long observance of the International Year for People of African Descent 2011. It also commemorates the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration to combat racism and xenophobia and its Programme of Action.

(left) Big Drum Ceremony, Carriacou, Grenada, 1993 by Chester Higgins Jr. (right) Dogon Creation Myth, Tireli, Mali, 1993 by Chester Higgins Jr.

 The mission of the show was to celebrate contributions of artists of African descent for the advancement of human rights and development of societies, however it seemed like more of a Chester Higgins Jr. retrospective.  The show displayed a whopping 13 photos, while contributions from other photographers ranged from 1 to 6, Adriano Fagundas coming in second.

"Vote": Young Man at the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March, 1965 by Steve Schapiro

As I walked through the gallery, I speculated how each of the works illustrated a contribution to the advancement of human rights on behalf of the artists.  Some of the works articulated the mission more successfully than others.  Like the Black Power Convention by Chester Higgins Jr., which captured activists raising their fist in salute of the movement or Maya Angelou’s poem, A Brave and Startling Truth. However, some of the other works were more vague, unless any effort by any Black artist or about any Black person, yields a contribution to the awareness of Black culture. Yeah ok?!?!?

(left) Young Karo Man holding Pillow by Chester Higgins Jr. (right) The Karo People, Ethiopia, 1993 by Chester Higgins Jr.

Despite the ambiguity of the presentation, the work showing traditional costume, dress and adornment was compositionally and aesthetically beautiful. The Karo People and Young Karo Man Holding Pillow show members of the Karo tribe adorning themselves with beads and paint.

shady p. at The African (un)Continuum

We will just believe that the lack of explanations, grammatical errors, and absence of some of the works produced at the UN show are due to the exhibition “not being ready” as Hank suggested in the beginning. Hopefully, the show will be on view until March 16, 2012

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