After being inspired by Yale University’s recent 19th-Annual Black Solidarity Conference, “Rooted: An Odyssey of Black Art,” student members of Bowdoin’s African-American Society decided to bring a taste of the convention back to campus.
To do this, Ashley Bomboka ’16 organized a recent panel discussion on black art, inviting the students who attended the Yale conference to participate: Symone Howard ’15, Golden Owens ’15, Fatoumata Bah ’17, Lydia Godo-Solo ’17 and Dominique Wein ’15. Two faculty members, Judith Casselberry and Elizabeth Muther, also contributed to the conversation.
The panel led off with a discussion on the definition of black art. What constitutes black art? Does the artist simply have to identify as black? Or is there something in the content of the art or a responsibility to the black community that earns it that title?
While the panelists agreed that defining black art is highly subjective, Howard offered her own definition: black art is “art inspired by the African diaspora or Africa itself, and the people and cultures resulting from that.”
Muther, an associate professor of English, offered a historical take, emphasizing the importance of social movements in the development. She argued that black art is the “cultural arm of the black power movement,” and thus has a specific role and origin to be considered.
The panel also touched on the concept of cultural appropriation, and the way that black art, specifically music, has been embraced by mainstream culture. Casselberry, a performing musician in addition to her career as an assistant professor of Africana studies, said that cultural appropriation is not always a negative practice, citing the frequency of sharing and co-opting in the musical world. However, she asserted that appropriation of black art becomes a problem in the context of access to resources and power inequality. Many black musicians and artists who are “foundational in creating art forms become invisible,” due to imbalances of power, expressed Casselberry.
The panel’s long-term goal for these kinds of conversations is for Bowdoin to more fully embrace black art, Bomboka explained. “I hope that Bowdoin is able to incorporate art from the African/Black diaspora into its museums and other public spaces,” she said.