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“Art with a Twist” is the theme for Thursday nights at the Crocker Art Museum. The new “Open Art” series held every fourth Thursday offers an array of programming ranging from performances to cultural exchanges.
Last Thursday the museum hosted a special lecture with a different approach to modern perceptions of dance, music and art.
“The Africanist Aesthetic in Performing and Visual Arts: A Talk by Dr. Halifu Osumare” was presented in collaboration with the Kuumba Collective Art Gallery and the Sacramento Chapter of The Links, Inc.
Osumare, an associate professor of African American and African studies at UC Davis and author of “The Africanist Aesthetic in Global Hip-Hop Power Moves,” discussed her research about how African culture permeates every facet of the arts.
She demonstrated to attendees how art, dance and music are steeped in African traditional principles. She explained how these principles have a connection to the Yoruba faith and spiritual framework of that culture. The greater message of her lecture explored the connections between these art forms and how they correlate to modern social and popular culture.
Her mission is simply “to educate and spread the spirit,” she said. The dynamic speaker and educator’s background in dance and choreography make her one of the foremost scholars on the African influence in contemporary society.
“I see dance as another form of knowledge — it’s not just doing some steps,” Osumare said. “In fact, I love promoting dance as another form of knowledge. In academia, it’s antithetical to education because of that mind-body split in Western thought.”
The “mind-body split” she refers to is the separation of the spiritual world from the physical one. In African cultures and Eastern thought, there is no division between the two aspects. They interact and are regularly exercised as a natural way of living. The professor affirmed that art is not to just be merely perceived as a visual aesthetic. The position that symbols have meaning and also functionality and purpose is an integral part of African culture. Interpreting symbols in African artwork and clothing was also a feature of the discussion.
“The generic symbols will take you into deeper research that will show the philosophical principles they are connected to in terms of creating depth into art work, especially for artists,” she said.
Underscoring this point, Osumare provided examples of mudcloth, Kente cloth and cloth with Adinkra symbols. She supported each fact with video documentation and concrete examples.
Her ability to present doctoral work that deconstructs social and cultural phenomena and share it in such a way that didn’t lose the audience is the signature of a true educator. The professor also utilized film clips to support evidence of an element called “Multiple Meter: Dancing,” that is, dancing to many drums patterns, or polyrhythm. Attendees were treated to examples of visual and sound clips of dancing to illustrate this fact. She noted that this element translates to the dominant musical art form of hip-hop, and referenced jazz music where one can find additional elements of fine form.
“Popular social dance is an African-based dance form,” she said. “You’re using something that uses African polyrhythm.”
Osumare kept the audience engaged by providing visual examples to emphasize each point. She interacted with the audience and interspersed anecdotal humor with self-demonstrations.
“What I like about her lecture style is that she makes learning accessible,” Trinidadian artist Adele James said. “She embodies what she speaks about in regards to incorporating visual, sound and movement.”
Osumare’s explanation of the “get-down quality” and “descending direction in the sculpture of dance” rendered a spiritual analysis of dance. Definition of these elements is hinged on understanding that the closer one gets to the earth, one communes with the earth, and then one is thereby summoning a spiritual essence.
“It is a reminder of Qi Gong (Tai Chi),” James said, drawing a parallel interpretation. “It’s similar to when you get down close to the earth — that was the highlight of the lecture for me.
Osumare’s lecture drew a range of attendees. There were several audience members representing academic fields and some were just curious to learn more.
“The language they used (in the video clip) was most inspiring to hear,” said attendee Vivian Ellis, a visitor from Munich, Germany. “It was fascinating.”
Ellis stated that the best part of the lecture was learning how African rhythm, its dance and the steps make her different from other ethnicities.
Sacramento City College art and design professor Gioia Fonda was impressed with how Osumare supported her ideas with demonstration of dance movements.
“I encouraged my students to attend, and I have an interest in learning,” Fonda said. “What she was discussing is similar to other principles in design, when she showed the different patterns (symbols) and meanings it indicated.”
Overall, the presentation was an interactive learning experience. The information offered over the course of the evening seemed to leave all who attended with a newfound perspective of looking at the world and moreover how cultural influences shape and govern popular culture.
To get a thorough understanding of Osumare’s intriguing research and the collective African principles influencing performing and visual arts, you’ll now have to read book. If the literature is similar to her lecture style, “The Africanist Aesthetic in Global Hip-Hop Power Moves” will challenge you to utilize critical thinking and provide you with the tools necessary to take an in-depth look into cultural studies.