art · research · teaching

art matters

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I loved having a random talk today with my colleague Teresa Cribelli. A couple of years ago she joined me and other colleagues in curating a Breathe exhibit in the art gallery in the University of Alabama’s Ferguson Center.

We wanted to share with others for one hour how faculty “breathe” through these troubling times.

Teresa’s beautiful collages were part of the exhibit. She just shared that her work will be featured at Kolaj Fest, a multi-day collage exhibition in New Orleans next month! We talked about how we are fortunate to have this chance to turn to art as we decompress.

We also create conversations as historians about the work before us with different audiences. I was reminded of how the physicality of creating is often taken for granted. I saw how being physical as a historian deepens my work.

In recent days, I have taken photos and made short videos to push my thinking on my present research. The image way up top is a close up of one of Carl Van Vechten‘s most famous portraits of Zora Neale Hurston.

IMG_5788.JPGIt’s a photograph I take for granted. Many of us have seen it.


But when I had to study the lines behind her and pay attention to snapshots of close ups of the eyes on her face when she was a critical member of the Harlem Renaissance and pay attention to the weariness in her eyes as an aging woman in Fort Pierce, Florida, so many light bulbs went off as I continue my research on how she figures into across time spatial and racial politics in Florida. When this exploration is coupled with my renewed interest in dance, the discipline in which I earned my first graduate degree, the work deepened. Words came faster as I wrote. I was drawn to new texts, too. Zora in Miami - Production Still.png

I am glad to be reminded of the opportunities to grow as a scholar with what may be seen as mere art in view. Interdisciplinary approaches have always resonated with me as a scholar. My doctoral adviser, David Roediger, once told me to bring my entire self to my work. I am doing this more than ever owing to real necessity and, thankfully, pleasure.

The chance to build community is especially a welcomed thing. The unorthodox is often scorned. It may not save us. But neither will the orthodox. Finding balance is part of the work and I welcome this crossroad. So much depends on it.

All this is on my mind on the last day of the “Space Matters” exhibit at UA’s Gorgas House Museum and as I revise a roundtable proposal for an upcoming conference with collaboration in mind. I also look forward to future conversations about how public history meets art/film/dance and my/our scholarly work. It is quite interesting because this is sort of where I started when I left New York in 2003 for grad school. Onward.

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