Friday, April 14, 2006

Wood, bronze, words: Writing in the Mattye Reed African Heritage Collection

The Thursday before a Friday holiday is often not the best time to plan an expedition across campus for a 2 p.m. class. Nevertheless, the Fiction Writing class gathered by bits and pieces (it's a long, long walk!) to view art in the University Galleries and write in response.
Ekphrasis is an ancient tradition, often identified with the Romantics but springing from classical tradition. We discussed writing in response to visual images in class on Tuesday and then went to the galleries on a glorious spring afternoon.
The Taylor Galleries held a display of student art work - figurative painting and drawing, mixed media, and some very interesting papier-mache heads. Across the building, the Mattye Reed Gallery has its permanent collection of African art.
We shuttled back and forth, examining works and then curling up on the floor to write in our journals. I was most taken by the Benin bronze head of a king and the royal leopard from the same culture, although all the masks, a twin sculpture in wood and cowrie shells, and a giant hornbill statue had incredible power.
I remembered a photo a student had captioned, "Old Heads," which I'm told refers either to alumni or to students who take more than the usual four years to complete a degree. So "old heads" became the theme as I wrote about the art works and the former students and the sit-ins that sprang from A&T more than 40 years ago.
I don't know if the scratchings will yield a poem - as we gathered outside under the oak trees to read and discuss, I reminded students that such a practice can help break a writer's block or pry loose new images from the subconscious, but may or may not yield completed work.
I hope the students will have found some of the creative tension I always experience in the presence of art, a balance between contemplation and excitement. And I hope they return to the galleries and seek out the other gallery spaces in Greensboro.

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