With On the Shoulders of Giants, Camille Landry hopes to help families rediscover their histories through art
One of Camille Landry’s favorite poems speaks to the need for expression, particularly among people living under oppression or disenfranchisement. In Harlem, Langston Hughes asks, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore — and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over — like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load ...”
“The last line is, ‘or does it explode?’” Landry said. “All of these things are options, you know, all of these things are possibilities. So, you know, art is healing. It gives you a way to cope with these things, and to express them in a way that other people can use.”
Landry, a longtime activist, educator, writer and owner of Nappy Roots Books, will be joined by Bruce Fisher from the Oklahoma Historical Society and local artists Skip Hill and Jasmine Jones for On the Shoulders of Giants, a discussion and workshop. The community conversation, 7 p.m. Sept. 16 in our Te Ata Theater, is in response to the family and community histories found in the Ron Tarver and Ebony Iman Dallas exhibition We Believed in the Sun, which closes Sept. 20.
Because of the family separations that took place during slavery, Landry said there is a pressing need in many Black families to explore family lineage and to fully understand how and why gaps exist. She said that slavery and oppression create a kind of post-traumatic stress that is passed down genetically to current generations, and that art can be therapeutic.
“And so, in the Black community that is particularly important, because our culture is fractured,” Landry said. “The experience of being brought into this country forcibly and enslaved with family lines broken and traditions broken has created fractures.”
In the discussion, Fisher and Landry will explore the role of “keepers of the culture,” safe creative and learning spaces like Nappy Roots where history is kept alive. Participants are encouraged to bring photos and other 2-D remnants from family albums and scrapbooks for Hill and Jones’ collage workshop, which will take place following the discussion. With guidance from the artists, participants will fashion (photocopied) photos and other materials into collaged family histories, telling stories and drawing links to the past.
Landry said that such art comes from “the deepest recesses of the culture of the artist,” and that some of the materials used in collage art might seem politically or culturally neutral until placed within the context of an artistically rendered family history. Then, connections are made and fleshed out, and memories can surface. She said she hopes participants will experience breakthroughs and discover information about their lineage.
“You know, sometimes art is ugly, because the stuff artists are referring to is ugly,” she said. “But to be able to make something tangible out of it is a very important healing tool, an important way to transmit knowledge and also a very important way to honor our past.”
On the Shoulders of Giants is free, but tickets are required. Get yours here.
Images: Skip Hill, Mama's Boy. Collage. © Skip Hill. Photo courtesy of the artist. Jasmine Jones, Gilded II. Collage. © Jasmine Jones. Photo courtesy of the artist.
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