Revamped fine arts association promotes black culture

Lisa Dreher

Two students are reviving the Association of Black Fine Art Students after a lull in activity, decline of membership and lack of on-campus presence.

Art history professor Moyo Okediji started the association in 2011 as a part of the Center for Art of Africa and its Diaspora. 

It was originally aimed at art and art history students, especially those interested in African and African-American culture, to allow them to participate in outings and events, Okediji said.

“The intention is to bring attention to some of the issues that might escape other groups who do not have the perspective of these black and African-American students,” Okediji said.

A few years later, Doug Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, wanted to expand the organization to include all fine arts departments, such as dance and music, where members could create, practice and perform together.

Despite the association branding itself as inclusive of all art forms, as past members graduated, sections were left bare. 

Mathematics junior Jessica Johnson, the association’s newly elected president, added a poetry and singing division to encourage more students seeking a community to join.

“I really want it to be a safe haven place where people can express themselves artistically,” Johnson said. “I want just a group of people to make suggestions on how to make the organization a better one.” 

Joshua Ellis, a government and African American studies sophomore, is leading the poetry and singing section after joining the association earlier this semester. Ellis said he will help members with performing passionately onstage, because he sees such expression as therapeutic. 

“I’m a very big proponent of finding your space,” Ellis said. “This is about giving them that space and letting them use that space to create something that they’re proud of.”

In the past, the association held a talent show called “Culture Shock,” and Johnson performed a Beyoncé-esque concert with her dance section last year. She said she gives her dancers freedom to embrace their culture and abilities. 

“I allow my girls not to be limited to the regular choreography,” Johnson said. “Twerking can be an uplifting thing for females, because it makes them feel their body is beautiful.”

Ellis said he anticipates students who are outraged or saddened by recent racially charged violence to perform and will support them emotionally. 

“I feel as though it is my responsibility to allow it to be really cathartic for you,” Ellis said.