The school year is thankfully winding down. At my school, it is customary for most teachers to provide summer assignments for their students. This year, my new focus has been to ensure I provide opportunities for my students to not only explore history through text and literature, but through material culture, and their surroundings. Today’s youth needs to understand that history is not something they simply read about in a book but is tangible. It can be seen, heard, and touched. History surrounds them but is also inside of them. As a result, my incoming United States History students will be responsible this summer for getting out of the house and visiting the National Museum for the American Indian. They will have to complete a pretty detailed gallery walk which will have stops along all four floors, require them to take pictures of themselves next to artifacts, and create new thematic names for the exhibits.
When many key Europeans first made contact with Amerindians, they promoted the idea that Native Americans were one monolithic group with little diversity , social and political complexity, and of childlike intelligence. This assignment was driven by my desire to allow the artifacts to speak for themselves, prove them wrong, and help my students develop a more accurate understanding and familiarity of the Native Americans in North and South America. Some of the artifacts that caught my eye are seen below.
Summer is right around the corner and can’t wait to post more museum visits and book reviews 🙂
Today I took my African American History students to the National African American History Museum. My lesson plan was motivated by two quotes from Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Negro History Week which later evolved into Black History Month”…. to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching” and “The thought of the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies.” I wanted my students to better understand how access to artifacts and inclusive museum exhibits help people obtain a more complete understanding of history and their place in American History. Students were given a structured assignment which guided them through the museum but gave them the freedom to choose exhibits they found interesting to complete their project. After I got over the anxiety of taking 40 students out of the building on public transportation, made sure all of my students were set, I used my remaining time to explore the museum solo.
This is my sixth time visiting the museum , second time within the last three months. I was starving and didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast so I first sat down to order some shrimp and grits, my absolute favorite dish in their delicious cafeteria, and then ventured to see the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibit. I have been reflecting on three artifacts I saw ever since. I saw a concrete block used both in a slave auction in antebellum Virginia and as a stump for general Andrew Jackson and Senator Henry Clay to give speeches to adoring crowds. I also saw a crib built for an enslaved baby on a South Carolinian plantation and a 19th century sack with an embroidered message sewn by an enslaved woman named Ruth. The message explained that the sack which originally contained three tattered dresses and a handful of pecans was given to her 9 year old grandmother by her great grandmother just before she was sold away and never seen again. She sowed the story behind the sack on the front so she wouldn’t forget.
Since I have become a mother, there are very few and rare times in a day where I am allowed to forget that I am responsible for the well being of another human. I couldn’t help but imagine the anguish all three of these women experienced. Whether they were suffering from the feelings of being utterly helpless while their child was ripped from their bosom on the auction block in a room full of profit driven speculators, relentlessly praying their baby survive the haphazard conditions of the slave quarters with insufficient clothing and food, or hoping their child who is being sold away will somehow remember them despite knowing they will never see them again, all of these women and mothers suffered heartbreaks that should have crushed their very will to live. It really shook me to realize that in the end it didn’t, because I am here today and I realize that I am only here today because they did not give up or give in.
There is no lecture I could have given in class that would help my students understand the history of the people contained in this museum.I strongly believe that there is no other monument or museum in D.C. that can capture the complete history of America than the stories contained in this museum. If you are ever in the area, you should definitely pay a visit.
Don’t get me wrong. There are an equal number of exhibits that spread joy and bring smiles to your face. I almost completely got swept back in time with a permanent koolaide smile on my face in the Arts and Culture exhibits.
Forty is knocking on my door and I have always been intrigued and somewhat suspicious by people who claim that entering into a new decade brings forth some sort of deep reflection or ground breaking awareness. Once again, 2019 has yielded another incident where I have been forced to eat my words. In a couple of months when I cross the threshold into my fit ,fly ,and fabulous 40’s, I will have transitioned with a new understanding of the definition of beauty. Beauty is not starving oneself to maintain a size two or saving up a year’s salary for liposuction. Beauty is not bathing in fade cream to erase one’s sun kissed melanin skin or going bankrupt and becoming a victim of alopecia to cover the natural crown of coils that grows directly from our heads. Beauty is not becoming a slave to designer brands that make mockery of our culture but will gladly claim our dollars. Beauty is not denying our self worth in hopes of proving our worth to others. Above all else, beauty is not dimming your light to make others shine.
I have always been teased for my angular chin from my childhood to my adulthood. I would never let it bother me because it is the same chin I inherited from my Bahamian great grandmother aka “Big Mamma” who was a bomb ass chic. When I look in the mirror, I see history and a direct line to a woman who was strong, resilient, kind, and full of life and laughter. I see beauty…..
While recently visiting the Smithsonian African Art Museum, I came across this 20th century Angolan mask of a woman who is supposed to be the epitome of beauty. The craftsmanship was breathtaking but even more beautiful was the fact that she possessed my angular chin! Coming across her during my museum visit momentarily led me into a moment of self reflection where I came to the resolution that I need to celebrate every inch of my body and I can no longer allow anyone in the flesh, on social media, or in Hollywood set my standard of beauty.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Hirshorn Museum here in D.C. I need to first start off by admitting that I am not the biggest fan of abstract art. However, I was absolutely moved by Rafael Lozano – Hemmer’s Pulse exhibit. I am not a technical person so I am not even going to embarrass myself by trying to explain how he did it. However, I will say that while at the exhibit, I hooked my hands up to a contraption that made an entire room illuminate based upon by heartbeat and projected ripples in water on a huge screen based upon my pulse.
He was inspired by this exhibit after hearing this children’s heartbeat in utero. If anyone has ever had the pleasure of witnessing such a miracle, they can reaffirm the old cliche that “Life is art.”
Hello out there! I know that it has been awhile since I have written; however, as many of you know, I am a high school history teacher and school is in full swing. I have had plenty of lesson plans to prep with all the teachable events occurring in our news. At any rate, I set aside some time to enjoy an adult’s night out last month at the Smithsonian American Art Museum where I was blessed to experience Kara Walker’s Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War. Anyone that knows me, knows that I literally worship the ground on which Walker walks. I love her ability to transport you to an eerie but intriguing antebellum South where Black women are the focus in many of her pieces. There are many who criticize her, for her physical depiction of Black women and claim that her work simply validates negative stereotypes and historical caricatures of Black women. I could not disagree more, for when I see her works of art, my soul is filled with immense feelings of pride. I find their full lips, dark skin, and tightly coiled hair beautiful. I love her work because just like in her Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War, she inserts these figures right smack in the middle of each body of work. You cannot see the historical scenes, without seeing her. Black women have traditionally been silenced or made invisible in historical depictions. However, her work makes you look at them. You cannot see the rest of the scenes without seeing them in all of the physical glory.
Yesterday I hopped in the car and took a drive to the Baltimore Museum of Art. My sister was in town and I was tired of taking her to the same old exhibits at the Smithsonian Museums in D.C. I also wanted to check out an exhibit entitled Salvation by one of my all time favorite artists Kara Walker.
I can remember in my pre-baby days hopping on a train to New York just to see a Kara Walker exhibit. Life as a mom has minimized my free time but I am determined to hold on to some of what was me before I became a mom. As with all of Walker’s works, I fell in love with this piece. I love the fact that she mostly always uses African American women as the subject of her art and so many of her story lines surround scenes and images from slavery. In this picture, the women most likely a runaway slave, has escaped the clutches of slavery only to face death in a swamp as she appears to drown. Yet one must ask themselves does death in fact offer salvation when offered instead of a life as an enslaved?
The above two works of art entitled I Can’t Run are by Hank Willis Thomas ,1976 and were displayed in the same exhibit as Kara Walker. This piece was amazing, for you can only see the image if you use a camera with a flash. The first is without the flash and the second was the flash. I though this was quite technologically innovative for a work of art created over 40 years ago.
So you know I have to use this as a teaching tool this year. Robert Colescott’s Three Graces at the Bathers Pool : Venus is still Venus plays on the traditional images of the goddess Venus but places her among three equally beautiful black women where she has no tolerance for their attempt to share the spotlight and be admired for their beauty. This piece could spark hours long conversations about the perception of beauty in modern day American society and media.
I have never been wowed by Alison Saar’s pieces based upon aesthetics alone; however whenever I read the context and background story of her work, I am left speechless. This 1995 piece is called Strange Fruit.The subject is a woman who has fallen victim to the modern day metaphoric lynching of black women by the media’s persistent failure to represent positive images of black women. She is made out of tin with scarring all over her body which are references to African ritual scarification. Although she is vulnerable and is told she is not beautiful, her lipstick and body in the shape of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus says she is beauty and a force to be reckoned with. There is also a key hole on her stomach which leads many to think Saar is insinuating that she has the power to heal herself already within her.
The Sande Masks located directly behind me were used in ceremonies exclusively for women in Sierra Leone and Liberia to help young women transition into adulthood. I was hoping to stand in front of them and reverse the process . Sometimes i am tired of being an adult lol. All jokes aside, the detail was amazing and you could not walk away with out a sense of pride in being a woman of color.
Motherhood is so hard. I have never faced something so consuming and demanding in my entire life. Your children demand and deserve all of you. As mothers we give our bodies, minds, time, and money to our children. There are times when you can question if it is worth it or whether you have anything left to give at the end of the day. I took an opportunity to really look and listen as this 19th century Guinea “The Great Mother Headress” explains how her delicate lips , flattened breasts and elongated neck symbolize the beauty and selfless generosity found in motherhood. I heard her and walked away a little replenished.