The Color Theory: Embrace Your Culture for Black History

Photo: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

As we all know, February is Black History Month. With racial injustice being brought to national attention within the past year, this time around feels a lot more important compared to recent years.

Said best by N’dea Yancey-Bragg of USA Today, “Black History Month recognizes the contributions African-Americans have made to this country throughout time. Specifically this year, on a national scale, we reflect on the continued struggle of racial injustice.”

For those interested, how did we get here?

Early Beginnings

The story of Black History Month dates back to 1915, almost fifty years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery. The founding fathers of this celebration, Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland, were dedicated to promote accomplishments made by African-Americans. They wanted these newly profound leaders to embrace their culture, while being put on a higher pedestal for the whole world to see. 

Photo: Matheus Viana – Pexels

Before 1976, Black History Month was “Black History Week” – formerly known as National Negro History Week, residing between Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays (who were important advocates of black lives).

Rising philosophers and leaders in the civil rights movement (such as Malcolm X, John Lewis, James Meredith, and Martin Luther King Jr.) brought awareness of the Black identity. Thus, evolving “Negro History Week” into the modern Black History Month.

Photo: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

Today’s Impact

As said in my previous post, we started this whole pandemic with lots of uncertainty. But there seems to be a forecast of hope on the horizon. With heartbreaking events, such as the death of George Floyd and many other countless names, became eye-opening for our nation. This year’s celebration, the on-going focus is heavily reflective of last summer’s Black Lives Matter Movement.

Although some may argue, just this year alone, this particular “reflection” is overly emphasized. Somebody once told me recently, “Well, why are people finally recognizing our struggles now? Why are people finally bringing up this issue after so many decades of pain?”

I hear you, my friend. But recognizing this issue now is better than never. We were bound to face the issues of police brutality, racism in the workplace, ignorance, and every injustice the black community has dealt with throughout the history of this country.

Nichelle Smith of USA Today agrees, “The short answer: Forward. Through still-difficult times to the other, better side. There’s no going back to a “normal” that never worked well for Black people anyway.” 

Everyone has been through a lot this past year. What’s keeping us alive is for us to keep progressing and pushing forward as individuals.

Current Sting President and Editor-at-Large, Leonard Robinson, also agrees to my philosophical advice as said in his last post: “The big thing that happened? Humanity got better at simply…being alive”. To put it in perspective, every day (hopefully), we are becoming more tolerant to our neighbors.

Photo: Scott Olson – Getty Images (via NPR)

The Colors: Symbolize Through Wear

With this celebration going on now, and still in a worldwide pandemic, the most common way to express your heritage and “blackness” is to dress up for the culture.

Dressing in a way can be considered as a reflection of one’s cultural values and morals. Think of it symbolically: there’s a story or meaning behind certain colors and patterns.

The colors red, black, and green have always been associated with African-descent and used as the colorway for Black History Month – inspired from the iconic, Pan-American Flag (or known as the Black Liberation Flag). Said by NPR editor, Leah Donnella: “Red stood for blood — both the blood shed by Africans who died in their fight for liberation, and the shared blood of the African people. Black represented, well, black people. And green was a symbol of growth and the natural fertility of Africa.”

I’m not saying you should wear red, black, and/or green to support this national celebration – but only my suggestion. You could go even further into embracing your culture by wearing traditional wear, such as head wraps and fine prints.

Jeff Dominguez is the Communications Director for The Sting and writes The Color Theory, an influential fashion column.

BMA to open expanded African and Asian galleries

On April 26, the Baltimore Museum of Art will open their dramatically renovated African and Asian galleries. The first-floor galleries will greatly expand the space that previously housed the artworks. Alongside the re-opening of the galleries, there will be events to celebrate the newly unveiled gallery space.

The project follows the celebration of the BMA’s 100th year, which culminated in the unveiling of the Merrick Historic Entrance and Dorothy McIlvain Scott American Wing in Nov. 2014. It is yet another part of the $28 million renovation that began with the opening of the contemporary wing in 2012.

Both the Asian and African galleries will offer visitors a more representative environment for the pieces. The state-of the-art lighting and additional space will allow for an enhanced experience and understanding of the artworks.

‘Gbekre’ monkey figure by the Baule People of Cote d’Ivoire. Photo courtesy of Ann Porteus, under a Creative Commons License
‘Gbekre’ monkey figure by the Baule People of Cote d’Ivoire.
Photo courtesy of Ann Porteus, under a Creative Commons License

The Alan and Janet Wurtzburger African Art Gallery triples the museum’s gallery space for African art. Higher ceilings and more options for display in the round means viewers will see the artwork in new and exciting lights.

The Wurtzburger Art Gallery was curated by former BMA Associate Curator for African Art Kathryn Wysocki Gunsch, who explained in the museum’s press release the importance of the changes in the gallery space.

“The BMA’s new galleries for African art demystify the works in this renowned collection by emphasizing the relationships between objects and the lives of the people by, and for whom, the objects were made,” Gunsch said. “We look forward to sharing this collection in a way that supports fresh connections to these incredible artworks and to the social, political, and cultural history of the continent more broadly.”

The Julius Levy Memorial and Newly Renovated Gallery of Asian Art is twice as large as the previous space. The opening exhibit will focus on China—displaying examples of paintings, furniture, ceramics and more from the 2nd century BCE through modern day. In the same press release, BMA Associate Curator of Asian Art Frances Klapthor expressed her excitement to see more of the collection on display.

“The two new galleries […] provide us with the opportunity to better showcase the beauty and strengths of this collection,” Klapthor said. “This reinstallation wonderfully expands the aesthetic scope of the museum’s presentation of Asian art.”

Beyond the galleries themselves, the BMA will celebrate by hosting two separate day-long events of African and Asian cultures. On April 26, the day when both galleries will be opened to the public, there will be African music, artist demonstrations, storytelling and hands-on mask making. The performers will include Elikeh and Amadou Kouyate, who blend traditional songs and Togolese rhythms with blues and jazz riffs. The Asian celebration on June 28 will feature musicians, calligraphy demonstrations, origami, and a manga drawing activity.

After a series of impressive renovations, it will be wonderful to have more of the museum’s many galleries accessible again. Whether or not visitors come for the cultural celebrations, the new Asian and African spaces are bound to bring new perspectives on the BMA’s impressive collection.