From Negro Pasts to Afro-Futures: Black Creative Re-imaginings. An online exhibition.

Black history is about remembering. Since their forced arrival in the Americas, African-descended people remembered their past and cultivated dreams of freedom. By the late 20th century, Black people demanded that their contributions be included in mainstream institutions. In 1969, the patrician Library Company of Philadelphia answered the call for inclusion and exhibited “Negro History.” Fifty years later, the Library Company stands at the historical and cultural crossroads where Black history is unapologetic and multifaceted. In this exhibition, you will bear witness to the colorful depictions of 17th century Ethiopian artisans who painstakingly crafted and drew religious figures in their mirror images. You will see 19th-century middle-class Black girls’ collections of words, drawings, advice, and poems about Black people near and far so that they could meditate on friendship and heed communal advice – #blackgirlmagic before the invention of the hashtag. Ultimately, this exhibition honors the humanity of Black people through the fragments, the rituals, the writings, and prayers they left for us in the here and now. From classical Africa to Philadelphia, the home of Mother Bethel and Neo-Soul, take a journey with us “From Negro Pasts to Afro-Futures: Black Creative Re-Imaginings.”

Animated GIF of African art

21st Century Culture Bearers

From Negro Pasts to Afro-Futures: Black Creative Re-Imaginings is a community effort. Five graduate students at Queens College, CUNY—all working on dual M.A. and MLS degrees in history and library science—were led by Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens in curating this exhibition. Their participation serves as not only a testimony to the legacy of creativity inspired by the Diaspora, but also, to the place young scholars should occupy in curating Black History.

Student participant Jermaine Dennis

Jermaine Dennis’ graduate thesis is on 19th century African American literary societies and the politics of pleasure. He curated “Fight the Power” and is grateful to reveal the lesser-known stories of early Black Americans. He graduates May 2019.

Student participant Kimani Magloire

Kimani Magloire’s research interests include early modern Europe and African American intellectual history. He curated “Enduring Faith/Enduring Survival” and believes the exhibition holds deep significance to African American history. He graduates May 2019.

Student participant Carolina Acosta

Carolina Acosta is interested in doing archival work deeply rooted in history. Carolina curated “Turning the Tide” and is gratified to be able to use the collection to show how early African Americans thought about race. She has completed her first year as an M.A./MLS student.

Student participant Julian González

Julian González works in special collections at Lincoln Center in New York and has used his experience to curate “Ancestral Art.” Julian has presented a trans-Atlantic cultural history of Black people that connects various countries and continents. He graduates May 2019.

Student participant Tamara Potts-Covan

This exhibition is important to Tamara Potts-Covan because it prepares her for a career working with collections at a cultural institution. She curated “Art Through Memory,” which allows her to educate the public on previously unknown African American people and history. She graduates May 2019.

Student participant Vanesa Evers

In addition, Drexel graduate student, Vanesa Evers, contributed behind the scenes in organizing this exhibition. She is graduating with an MLIS with a minor in Museum Leadership this summer and plans to continue her work providing access to special collections and archives to under-represented communities.

Thank You to Our Generous Donors

The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation
Pennsylvania Abolition Society Endowment Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation
National Endowment for the Humanities
Pennsylvania Council for the Arts

We would also like to thank the following donors to the Stevens-Codgell, Sanders-Venning Collection: Cordelia H. Brown, Beverly Brown-Ruggia, Lillie V. Dickerson, Elsa Hardy, Mary Hinkson Jackson, and Georgine E. Willis. Donations to this collection have been made in honor of Phillip S. Lapsansky.

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