The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Thelma Golden, director for exhibitions and programs at the Studio Museum in Harlem, gives a presentation at a culture and art panel at Zellerbach Theater as part of the Kwanzaa celebration at Penn. [Chau Lam/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

There are 23 more days until Kwanzaa officially begins, but Penn is already kicking off the celebration -- and yesterday's focus was on black art and music.

Last night, the Zellerbach Theatre welcomed moderator Timothy Rommen and panelists Terry Adkins, William Banfield, Thelma Golden and Guthrie Ramsey as they discussed their views and visions for black art.

Kwanzaa, which traditionally begins on Dec. 26, honors African-American identity and spirituality over the course of seven days. Each day focuses on one of the Nguzo Saba, which are social and spiritual principles.

Penn's Kwanzaa activities will continue through Sunday night and will range from group discussions to a movie showing to a ceremonial feast.

At last night's event, a multiracial crowd of students, faculty and community members gathered in the Zellerbach Theater to reflect on the principle of Kuumba -- creativity. They listened to a panel of distinguished guests discuss their own experiences with various forms of black artistic expression.

Penn Fine Arts Professor Terry Adkins discussed his own development as an artist. He described his experiences while growing up during the Civil Rights Movement and the connection between art and activism.

"We wanted our work to reflect the tenor of the times... and we had reason to believe it would work," Adkins said.

He added that although the work of his generation of artists has evolved over time, many of the same sentiments are still the same.

"We continue because the struggle continues," Adkins said.

William Banfield, director of the American Cultural Studies Program at the University of St. Thomas, shared his perspective as a composer.

Banfield, an endowed chairman in the humanities and fine arts, expressed concern that the Academy does not give due attention to many forms of African-American music.

"If we are measuring our culture only in terms of gospel, hip-hop and 'Destiny's Children,' then we are in trouble," Banfield said.

He acknowledged the validity of studying these aspects of popular culture but emphasized the importance of other types of music as well. To illustrate his point, Banfield played clips of other musical styles.

Thelma Golden, director for exhibitions and programs at the Studio Museum in Harlem, showed a slide show of a wide range of artwork. Throughout her presentation, Golden grappled with the question: What is black art?

After discussing many different approaches to this question, Golden eventually concluded that it could not be answered.

"We don't ask the questions," Golden said, "but show the art and allow the art to answer them."

Penn Music Professor Guthrie Ramsey delivered the final presentation of the evening. He related a personal anecdote of an incident with Philadelphia police in which an officer mistook him for a suspect.

Ramsey proceeded to outline how this experience influenced his own academic work. He asserted that art and society cannot be separated.

"Art is life, and life is art," Ramsey said.

Rommen, a music professor at Penn, moderated the discussion and gave several closing remarks. Afterwards, he opened up the floor for questions from the audience.

The panelists' presentations were deemed "excellent" by Dej y Byrd, coordinator at the Ross Gallery and one of the 150 people present at the event.

"They are all on the edge, opening up African-American art, getting away from the status quo," Byrd said.

The event, titled "Culture and Art," was organized by the Center for Africana Studies. It was part of the "Back to the Future of Civilization" series commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Afro-American Studies Program at Penn.

"This expressive way of speaking allows more creative voices to be heard," said Tukufu Zuberi, director of the Center for Africana Studies.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.