Curator's Statement

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SIU Conversation 2.0 view of Atrium Gallery in University Museum

Conversation 2.0
University Museum, Atrium Gallery, SIU
(Photo: Leonard Gadzekpo)

The grandeur of African Art is in its ability to capture the ethos of a people. While exquisite craftsmanship is an obvious underlying criterion, when it is in service of expressing cultural values aesthetically without sacrificing utilitarian needs of the society, then artistic endeavor incisively bears the African ethos. A stool, for an example, may be a piece of furniture for household use, a royal throne or a sacred object, but even as a piece of household furniture, a stool owned and used by an elder member of the family, especially, of the larger extended family, gains some attributes of a throne. The stool becomes a symbol of wisdom that comes with experience and age and is encrusted with authority society accords elders of an extended family that is passed on through the centuries. 

Among African Africans, the extended family is a manifestation of African ethos. Verbal, visual artistic and other performance traditions are passed on through centuries in an extended family. Quilts, like stools, bear aspects of the visual culture of a people, a larger global extended family of Africa, Africana. Their production is a result of superb and dedicated craftsmanship and creativity. In quilts, aesthetic and utilitarian values of Africana Art are united and they embody wisdom and experience that elders impart to the generations.

Conversation 2.0 presents art pieces from the Reginald Petty African Art Collection and creativity they inspired in Edna J. Patterson-Petty. Her works and African Art pieces in the exhibition offer an aesthetic and familial cultural conversation that echoes visually from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and continues to ripple despite centuries and an ocean of forced separation. The art pieces affirm the ancient call and response tradition of Africana is alive, robust, and vibrant in the Twenty-First Century. Within Africana minds and hearts, there is the need to preserve and protect their heritage. For Africana, peoples of African descent, that need generates enduring creativity and promotion of community.

The Pettys bring into focus a cultural ethos that encapsulates the very essence of humanity: preservation and promotion of community. Conversation 2.0 offers a window through which one may view aspects of visual manifestations of Africana ethos. The dynamic cultural life of Africana is presented through exhibiting African Art and African American Art. It is not often the two are shown and viewed side-by-side. But reality of African people and in the Diaspora, Africana, informs their art as they deal with individual and communal needs and, therefore, warrant being looked at holistically as Africana Art.

Leonard Gadzekpo, Ph.D., M.F.A.
Associate Professor/Interim Chair
Department of Africana Studies
Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Exhibition Sponsors

  • Provost Meera Komarraju, Ph.D. (SIU)
  • Vice Chancellor Gary L. Kinsel, Ph.D. (SIU)
  • Dean Andrew Balkansky, Ph.D. (COLA, SIU)
  • Department of Africana Studies (SIU)
  • Fine Arts Activity Fee (FAAF Committee, SIU)
  • Africana Studies Club (SIU)

Exhibition Committees

  • Leonard Gadzepko, Ph.D., M.F.A.
    • Curator: Conversation 2.0
    • Interim Chair/Associate Professor, Department of Africana Studies (SIU)
  • Najjar Abdul-Musawwir, M.F.A.
    • African-American Art History/Art Consultant
    • Professor, School of Art and Design (SIU)
  • dele jegede, Ph.D.
    • African Art/Art History Consultant
    • Professor Emeritus (Miami University, Oxford, OH)
  • Weston Stoerger
    • Curator of Exhibitions, University Museum (SIU)