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Imagine Africa

ckenward's picture

Like many others who were on the field trip on Friday, I really enjoyed the interactive Imagine Africa exhibit.  There were a couple of parts which really engaged me and I really appreciated sitting in on the focus group afterwards and hearing thoughts from both Bryn Mawr and PW students. 

One of my favorite parts of the exhibit was reading what people in the group had written on the walls in response to the questions posted.  I was pleased to see the thought that went into many of the comments - especially by the PW students.  They weren't just responding to the questions to be able to write on the wall (although I'm sure that was added encouragment) but had some really poignant observations.  One of my favorite comments was in response to the question, " What is the difference between African and European art?"  The students seemed overall to be quite critical of European art which has its own issues to be unpacked, but then there was one response which read "African's belifes, culture is more put together then the Europeans."  To me, this could be representative of so many issues.  My first thought when I read this is that Africa is older and that is what they are referring to when they say Africa is more "put together" than Europe.  However, another thought, which isn't quite so positive, is that Africa is often thought of as a country instead of a continent by many people in the U.S.  For me this is problematic, and it changes the way I think about the statment.  "Put together" represents a positive phrase as culturally divisive = bad and together conjures ideas of healing, mending, collaboration - all positive ideas.  I think that saying Africa shares beliefs advocates the idea of a "single story" which is a problem Africa already struggles with. 

Another part of the exhibit I really liked was the Create portion.  My mom is a quilter and I have always loved fabric as an art form.  I thought the video showing the resistant dye method was really cool and appreciated being able to touch the different fabrics.  The portion more than any other really engaged my senses and thoughts.  It also had a lot of intersection with the section on Rites of Passage.  Where they were talking about the different symbols which are used on cloth to drape over someone who has died.  I think the idea of symbols as language is really intriguing; so much of how we communicate exists outside of "language" and the idea of being able to express a thought or emotion without needing to use words is really beautiful.   


alesnick's picture


your attention to students' words written in the exhibit and the complexity of what they might mean.  Unpacking a term like "put together" which is used in many different settings is important, challenging.  The connection to your mom's quilting work is also suggestive: maybe the way we imagine someplace is based on where we've been, in this case, around quilts!