Fall Retreat @MOAD

Integrated Learning Fall Retreat 2016 @ Museum of African Diaspora (MOAD)

Three dozen educators attended a recent Saturday workshop hosted by MoAD, facilitated by Mariah Landers and Susan Wolf from ACOE representing the practices at the core of ACOE’s Integrated Learning Specialist Program (ILSP).  

Understanding Goal: How can we cultivate new narratives to disrupt old habits and envision new patterns of power?

Gather in a circle. Welcome. A communal breath, meditation and centering our bodies with some excerpts from  brain dance. Community building games: Mmmm mix it up, Handshake Shapes, and ‘I am a tree’. Each practice helped us to get ready to use our bodies and theatrical capacities when reflecting upon the artwork and making learning visible later in the day.

handshakeshape.jpg

Contemporary Artists are fuel for our deeper thinking about almost everything. Their ideas are fresh and deeply connected to the issues of the day. Additionally, Contemporary Artists are not exclusively representative of the traditional, dominant white male voice. This is deliciously true at MOAD, two beautiful, thought provoking exhibits are on view now. I urge you to get there to see it for yourself. The exhibition that fueled our inquiry was A Matter of Fact by Toyin Ojih Odutola (on view thru April 2nd, 2017)

A Matter of Fact presents a new body of work from Toyin Ojih Odutola. With vibrant pastel and charcoal drawings developed out of her unique pen ink and pencil style, Ojih Odutola presents a meditation on the expression and constructs of wealth. From a portrait of a mother and daughter enjoying an equestrian afternoon to the commanding presentation of The Marchioness elegantly poised presiding within a mansion, these drawings allow one to recognize wealth, as it exists beyond fact or questioning.

Often with apathetic expressions, the drawings render various characters from the UmuEze Amara Clan, a fictionalized aristocratic family. The creation of space becomes an act of portraiture, as the detailed articulation of the rich textiles and elegant furniture, perform a certain kind of resolute wealth. However, in this portrayal, Ojih Odutola constructs space for the audience to reevaluate their perceptions and expectations of this wealth as an act of intentional creation. (text excerpt from gallery guide)

For additional context, before heading into the gallery we read aloud selected excerpts from previous reviews and articles written by and about the artist. Soon, there will be an edited video of the artist talking about the exhibition. Additional resources to learn more about the artist are included at the foot of this post.

toyin.jpg

Looking closely for the literal: Look first at a small portion, then half of the image and finally the full sized portrait. Use a viewfinder or your phone camera. Describe what you see.

Black male, well groomed, gorgeous shade of blue, gold watch, patterned carpet, shoes off, wedding ring, loose tie, pink shirt, jacket thrown over adjacent chair, seated upon the edge of an opulent chair, fabric that glistens, fabric that hangs with grace, sheepish look.

Black male, well groomed, gorgeous shade of blue, gold watch, patterned carpet, shoes off, wedding ring, loose tie, pink shirt, jacket thrown over adjacent chair, seated upon the edge of an opulent chair, fabric that glistens, fabric that hangs with grace, sheepish look.

Looking at the full composition:

  • What do you know about the people in the portrait?
  • What clues about their identity can you find?
  • What about the context is familiar?

Next, search for the hidden narrative. Take 2 minutes to respond in writing to each of the following prompts:

  • What is just outside the frame?
  • What is invisible yet true?
  • What you don’t see is…
  • What is the story behind this picture?

The questions about hidden narrative are particularly compelling as the artist, when speaking about this body of work has an elaborate back story for each of the family personalities. Remember this is a fictionalized narrative. The patriarch’s second wife is a man. A daughter actively serves in the military. The son, who realizes after a night out realizes that he prefers men. One son is killed while on a hunt by a rhinoceros.

As Toyin Ojih Odutola crafts her narrative she searches popular media feeds for context and composition. The mother and daughter on horseback are poses pulled from still images of Lady Mary of Downton Abbey. The young boy wearing a polo shirt entering the home with the aristocratic dog sitting indoors is from an image of young Prince Harry. Ojin Odutola said, in a pose  "As if saying,  Welcome to my crib”.  There are nose rings and diamond studs not because they would be appropriate to the narrative of family but because the artist couldn’t resist adding pieces of herself.

But to me, most remarkable of all is that this body of work was created in three months time, without assistants.  Some comments Toyin shared at the MOAD docent walk through:

  • ‘Not a fan of assistants’
  • ‘Lazy and comfortable this family knows they are awesome’
  • “There is this idea that if you look a certain way you are free.”

In smaller groups of 5-7 folks share the narrative created from the portrait they studied. A story circle protocol was used. Each person has 2 minutes to speak while others listen attentively. As each speaker finishes the listeners echo back key words and gestures.

Although each group has a facilitator creating a performance is a collective, democratic process. Some groups create a cycling tableau that changes as each speaker brings their voice to the narrative.

Although each group has a facilitator creating a performance is a collective, democratic process. Some groups create a cycling tableau that changes as each speaker brings their voice to the narrative.

tableau.jpg
tableau2.jpg
Another group stages a happening on the stairs using key words and intimate gestures to convey social conflict and claim discrete spaces for individual identity.

Another group stages a happening on the stairs using key words and intimate gestures to convey social conflict and claim discrete spaces for individual identity.

A third group recreated a physical picture frame and collaborated upon a text that was built upon selected individual lines then passed to each other to continue and complete, similar to the surrealist collaborative drawing practice of exquisite corpse.

 After each presentation WOW’s, questions and appreciations were shared.

We returned to a large seated circle for final reflections. Revisited our understanding goal: How can we cultivate new narratives to disrupt old habits and envision new patterns of power?

As teachers we are always looking for the hidden narrative carried by each of our students, finding the right compelling prompts to open a window to their lives. Creating spaces that shift the power away from the dominant voice of teacher as authority toward student driven inquiry is a vision we hold for each of our students to make important connections with their own unique strong powerful voices.

Additional resources for Toyin Ohih Odutola

twitter  Instagram

 

Jack Shainman Gallery Solange Knowles & Toyin Ohih Odutola discuss collaboration and inspiration  https://youtu.be/caE0LrjMa54

Juxtopoz Article 

 https://www.artsy.net/artist/toyin-ojih-odutola

Redefining blackness http://africasacountry.com/2012/12/an-interview-with-artist-toyin-odutola/

105 pages of her press http://www.jackshainman.com/files/3114/5634/0234/Odutola_Press_2015_sm..pdf