music · words of wisdom

Words of Wisdom: Nina Simone

It’s a new dawn/ It’s a new day/ It’s a new life/ For me/ And I’m feeling good – Nina Simone

Happy Friday friends!  I hope that you all have had a stress-free and enjoyable week. I’m looking forward to this weekend, despite  a forecast indicating snow showers to strike in the Mid-Atlantic region. I’m no fan of the cold, but it’ll be nice to stay in and watch the snowfall.

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The Words of Wisdom today will be coming from none other than Eunice Kathleen Waymon, better known as the incomparable Nina Simone. Her music, that she described as black classical music, is full of passion, wisdom, pain, and love.

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I first became acquainted with Simone’s music in 2010. I was encouraged to listen to her after an acquaintance noted that I dressed (at that time) similarly to Simone. With my naturally curly-kinky hair, brown skin, and penchant for African inspired fashions, I probably looked a lot  more like Simone than I do currently. I purchased the digital version of The Lady has the Blues to acquaint myself with her work. I found myself drawn into Simone’s incredible piano playing ability, but I stayed for her soulful lyrics.

The album that started my love of Ms. Simone

I researched Simone’s history to learn more about the woman behind these poignant songs. What I learned about her was heartbreaking. Simone was denied admission to the musical program that she dreamed of attending. She had unhappy romantic relationships, which were likely complicated by her own mental health issues (she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder). While critically-acclaimed and publicly loved, she suffered indescribable pain behind closed doors. This pain is what we bear witness to when listening to her music.

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But, despite the painful lyrics, there is a lot of beauty in Simone’s work. More importantly, she left a legacy of activism through her art. She actively sought to achieve her own personal peace while on Earth (which is more than most people can say). Relocating abroad, away from a country that had scarred her with its racism and bigotry, was critical for her self care. She passed while living in France at the age of 70. May she continue to rest in peace. And may we all enjoy her impressive ouevre and learn from her life. The world didn’t deserve Nina Simone, but I’m glad that she lived her life unapologetically and left such an amazing example for us today.

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That’s all for this week loves. I hope that you all have a cozy and comfortable weekend and I will talk to you all on Monday. Take care!

(Photos courtesy of AZ Quotes, For Harriet, Women’s Tea Time, and Pinterest)

art

A Tale of Two Cleopatras: Comparing and Contrasting Art

Happy Thursday, friends! After a recent trip to Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, I found myself with a few art photos that I wanted to share with you all, but I wanted to do something a little different. Instead of sharing the photos and simply telling you what I think about it, I decided that it would be more fun to compare the art with a similarly themed piece that I’ve also viewed in person. That way, I can describe the similarities, differences, and which piece I favor most.

(from left to right) Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra; William Wetmore Story, Cleopatra

As you can see from the title, I’m comparing two marble Cleopatras today. The first work was part of my review of Edmonia Lewis’s work at the Archives of American Art (housed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum). Lewis’s The Death of Cleopatra was easily one of my favorite marble works of art at the museum.

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Photos of Lewis’s version of Cleopatra

The second Cleopatra is by William Wetmore Story, and is located at VMFA. This Cleopatra – his earliest version of the tragic Egyptian queen – is located in the American galleries at the museum. The massive work sits imposingly in the gallery and, in true queenly fashion, all other art in the room are dwarfed by the stunning Cleopatra.

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To keep this focused strictly on the works themselves, I avoided reading up on Wetmore Story. So there won’t be a comparison of the artists’ lives or legacies, but we will get into these pieces and discuss what they have in common and how they differ.

For starters, the subject is the same with both pieces. Both depict Queen Cleopatra, and (interestingly) both of the pieces portray her as having traditionally Greco-Roman facial features (kudos to the artists for remaining historically accurate when it came to her face). Both statues are massive: Lewis’s is a bit taller, but the posture is different, so they are actually very close in size. Amusingly, both also depict Cleopatra with one breast exposed. Perhaps they knew something about traditional Egyptian dress that I don’t?

While both of these Cleopatras are regal and elegant, the theme of the works couldn’t be more different. Wetmore Story’s Cleopatra is pensive and in deep contemplation: she is troubled by something and has probably just asked her servants to give her some privacy. Is she thinking about lost loves, or the impending downfall of her rule? Her mind may be racing over any number of things.

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Lewis’s Cleopatra has just committed suicide and is dying on her throne as her last royal act. She has just closed her eyes and her left arm has fallen limply to her side. Even in death, her face is struggling to relax comfortably: this queen is pained to the grave.

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As far as fine detailing on the pieces, I’m a fan of Wetmore Story’s version. To be fair, Lewis’s work had been exposed to considerable environmental elements and poor handling, so the sculpture isn’t as impeccably detailed as it (likely) once was.

My favorite Cleopatra is probably Lewis’s version, for this reason: she captured death and pain without making it grotesque or unnaturally pretty. This Cleopatra is finding it difficult to “rest in peace” but, ever the royal, she makes us feel pride, and not pity, for her. Wetmore Story’s Cleopatra is enchanting, for sure: I loved how well he captured her troubled mental state behind her stoic, regal expression. His Cleopatra is alive with emotion; however, Lewis’s Cleopatra moves us even in death.

That’s my not-so-quick comparison of two Cleopatras. I hope you all enjoyed and will make it a goal to see both of these beautiful works at some point in time. Enjoy your day, and I’ll chat with you all tomorrow!

 

art · culture

Howardena Pindell’s “What Remains to Be Seen” at VMFA

A few months ago, I went to a special event at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, announcing an upcoming exhibition. That exhibition was a retrospective of the creative career of Howardena Pindell, multimedia artist, activist and professor. “What Remains to be Seen” is an impressive ouevre that showcases Pindell’s evolution as an artist, and is broken down into the different phases of her life and creative journey.

Today (November 25) is the last day to see the works, so I’m heading to the museum shortly so I can enjoy them one last time before they leave. However, I’ve got a few pictures for you all in this post, some additional commentary (of course LOL!) as well as a YouTube video of Pindell’s most famous short, “Free, White and 21”. Enjoy!

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Howardena Pindell

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Pindell’s use of grids and numbers created some of her most riveting work. I love seeing how she turns numbers and otherwise sterile, math-related tools and objects, into art.

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The 3-d grid below is a good example of the blend of art and math. It’s probably one of my favorite works by her.

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The tiny individual circles affixed to many of Pindell’s pieces reveal her love of mathematic perfection reinterpreted. These pieces, attached to the grids she loved to work with, were occasionally numbered individually.

Like many artists, Pindell sought to promote cultural shifts through activism. Her works also featured socio-political themes that were near and dear to her.

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One of my favorite themes explored by Pindell was that of science. Closely related to her mathematics fascination, her interpretation of natural phenomenon and wonders created some of her most aesthetically charming works (though, to be honest, I love all of her work and find it all aesthetically pleasing). I especially loved “Nautilus” and “Night Flight” (pictures are below).

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Finally, here is “Free, White and 21”, Pindell’s video experiment where she aims to repair her memory loss (caused by a serious car accident) by recalling memories from earlier in her life.

words of wisdom

Words of Wisdom: Lorraine Hansberry

“Never be afraid to sit a while and think” – Lorraine Hansberry

Talented, intelligent, and gone too soon: Lorraine Hansberry was an award-winning playwright and activist. She, like many other Black American writers during this time, captured the smoldering inner turmoil and external conflict of ambitious Blacks living in pre-Civil Rights America.

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I recently came across a photo of Lorraine while looking up information on another writer and, as always, I was drawn in by her soulful eyes and sweet smile. Behind her wholesome beauty was a gorgeous brain: her writing talents got her critical acclaim and earned her the spot as the youngest playwright to ever have a play produced on Broadway. She is also the youngest winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

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I really resonate with her thoughts regarding the path of the creative. Embracing her talent meant encountering feelings of loneliness, over-familiarity with the lows of life, but also an undiminishable hope in a more beautiful and brighter future. Her positive view of life inspires me tremendously.

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“I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful and that which is love” – Lorraine Hansberry

(Photos courtesy of AZQuotes and Pinterest)

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It’s a Sheila Guyse Weekend for Me!

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A smile that could light up any screen

A couple of weeks ago, I threw myself into a Lena Horne movie marathon. I love watching old black-and-white movies because beauty, style and class are always worth watching.

A few years ago, I watched the movie, “Boy What a Girl! and I was captivated by one of the actresses. The actress that really lit up the screen was Sheila Guyse. She played Francine, one of the two daughters of the wealthy Mr. Cummings. She was a gorgeous and talented actress – it’s a shame that she isn’t well known today.

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Guyse as Francine Cummings, with Alan Jackson as Mr. Cummings

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Another photo of Guyse, this time with Betti Mays who played her sister, Cristola Cummings

In honor of Sheila Guyse’s birthday (July 14th) I’m watching three of her movies this weekend. Luckily for us, all of these movies are available on Archive.org and YouTube, so you can enjoy them for free.

A radiant Guyse in Sepia Cinderella

Boy What a Girl was my introduction to Guyse, but I’ve never seen the other two movies on the roster, Sepia Cinderella and Miracle in Harlem. I’ve added some stills from each of the movies, so you can see why she was a sought-after actress during her career.

Serving smoldering side eye in Miracle in Harlem

These movies are not only a tribute to Guyse, but a way for me to celebrate the book that I just finished! I’ll be back with fitness challenge updates tomorrow. Talk to you all soon!

 

Ending this post with a wink and smile (from Boy What a Girl)

art

Howardena Pindell – A Lifetime of Creation

A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture on contemporary abstract artist Howardena Pindell. Pindell’s video, Free, White and 21, was my introduction to her work. I saw the video as part of my online art course through Coursera. I found the video fascinating and have always been curious about the woman behind it.

Pindell’s work will be making a stop at Virginia Museum of Fine Art (VMFA) in August 2018. The work is part of her “What Remains to Be Seen” tour, an exhibit reflecting upon Pindell’s 50+ year career. Artists like Pindell, Betye Saar, Lorraine O’Grady and Senga Nengudi inspire me for their daring and provocative work and their insistence upon carving a space for Black, avant garde conceptual artists. Pindell’s work is thought provoking and highly detailed: it features a great deal of precision, texture and movement, all of which enhance the viewer experience. I’m looking forward to experiencing her art when it comes to VMFA!

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(photo courtesy of Nathan Keay, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago)

 

You can watch Pindell’s stirring reflections in Free, White and 21 here (or you can just click the play button below):

 

art · life curation

Edmonia Lewis’s Work at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum

Happy Friday, friends! We made it through another week – hurrah!

Earlier this week – before the Mid-Atlantic region got hit with another round of snow – I stopped by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). Visits to the museum are good for my soul, and, since most schools are still in session, I don’t have to navigate around a lot of tourists. I can usually get to the museum, tour to my heart’s content, and return to my desk in under an hour. Sometimes I really love working in DC!

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Anyways, I recently went to SAAM for a very specific reason. I had researched Edmonia Lewis’s existing artwork and confirmed that one of her most famous pieces, The Death of Cleopatra, was located at SAAM. After learning that it was currently on view, I knew that I had to go and see it for myself.

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Photo of Edmonia Lewis (as shown on SAAM’s website)

I talked about Lewis when I wrote about my current favorite app. In that same post, I referenced an Art History Babes podcast episode that discussed Lewis’s life. I saw a few of her works on Google Arts & Culture but viewing art in person is so much more enjoyable. The surprise for me was that several of Lewis’s pieces were on view, so I took lots of pictures during this visit.

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Here is The Death of Cleopatra. This depicts Cleopatra seated on her throne, life slowly slipping away after being bitten by a poisonous snake. She’s dignified even in death, wearing her crown and full regal attire.

 

She’s substantial and powerful, and has chosen to die on the throne that she worked so hard to preserve. It’s a moving piece and a fine example of Lewis’s marble sculpting prowess.

 

A close up of the throne detailing and Cleopatra’s lifeless hand.

Lewis also sculpted Moses, a replica of the statue of Moses rendered by Michaelangelo (the original is at St. Peter’s in Rome). The original is much larger than Lewis’s version, but the resemblance is uncanny. Lewis skillfully imitated the works of great masters.

 

I wish I could have gotten some better photos, but it’s in a case so the reflection off the glass makes it hard to capture the detailing.

This whimsical statue is Poor Cupid, depicting the god of love caught in a trap. Cupid’s “aww shucks” expression made me chuckle.

 

 

As always, I enjoyed my trip to SAAM. There are a few other pieces by Edmonia Lewis on display: I may do a follow-up post about those works. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this post! This weekend, see if you can spend a little time at your local museum. You’ll be glad that you did. Until tomorrow . . .