The culmination of “A Tree Without Roots” was a celebration of Africa from an American perspective. Makeda’s Ethiopian Restaurant on New Brunswick’s main street in the midst of Rutgers brooding intellectuals made for a perfect setting for a discourse in African Diaspora, art, and aesthetics. The background of live jazz acted as a mind elevating musical interlude as your eyes traveled between the spaces of canvas, paint, paper, wood, glass, etc. For a moment you felt transported to a different time and place where the world was in the future and the past landing right on the truth. A Massai warrior beckoned you inside with his wide smile, but warned you of what you might experience with his spare clutched in his right hand. Once inside Nelson Mandela singled you out with his pointed finger right in your direction as if saying, “Yes, you are here, now, and you are responsible for what you endure because you know it is time.”
One of the objectives of the show in addition to, showcasing the talent of artists of the diaspora, was to gain an understanding of how context influences the appreciation of different types of art. The first exhibition was held at Office NJ in Piscataway, NJ. An office full of the offices of entrepreneurs and business owners, was comprised of primarily suburban, middle class, 30-60 aged; homeowners with families. At this show, MC Enigma’s My Worst Nightmare garnered a lot of attention. The trippy triple-scene visualization of inner realities existing in a young man seen through the gaping mouth centered in the wooden sculpture intrigued the voyeur. It was approached carefully, and analyzed it with little hesitation. I highlighted details and explained the background of the work without biasing it with any interpretation of my own, parents clutched their children and an air of tension rose to see-level. Did the close proximity to a truth attract them to this work?
At The Coffee Cave in Newark, NJ with the majority of the visitors being from the surrounding Essex County area, the reception was just as positive, but garnered a slightly different response. The Dress Form by Shady P. was the highlight of this show. This 5 foot 9 inches mixed media sculpture was built in 2009 out of found materials from a junkyard in East Orange. The inspiration was to create a structure that would demonstrate the construction of beauty from unwanted or devalued materials. The conceptualization of the “dress form” was influenced by a background in fashion and biology and the idea of constructing beauty from discarded/unwanted materials. It also related to the theme of the exhibition by visually illustrating Marcus Garvey’s quote “A Man Without Culture is Like a Tree Without Roots” through the use of a detached and adorned tree trunk symbolizing the appearance of the beautiful does not contribute to the worth of the object if they are unattached, uneducated, or unaware of their past, history or culture.
Lastly, at Makeda’s Ethiopian Restaurant, art by Kenyan artist, Kennedy Waireri attracted a lot of attention. His African music and art inspired multi-media work on canvas, was a nice compliment to the live jazz music performance in the dining area. The vibrancy of his color palette grabs your eyes as you enter the earth-toned environment.
This traveling show, has also led to other events such as a school presentation at Conackamack Middle School and participation in Palestine Child Relief Fund at Rutgers University. It was an overall success selling quite a few pieces.