Artwork spreads culture in Oscar Ritchie Hall

Ellen Kirtner

A glass-enclosed space greets visitors on the first floor of Oscar Ritchie Hall.

Aside from a few boxes resting in a corner, the Uumbaji Gallery is bare — for now.

The Department of Pan-African Studies continues to develop a cultural ambience in Oscar Ritchie through new ethnic art displays. The Uumbaji Gallery will be filled by October.

Wendy Wilson-Fall, chair of the department, said plans are in place for a display featuring Frederick Loudin, a 19th century black man from Ravenna. Loudin managed the Fisk Jubilee Singers as they traveled and performed worldwide.

Wilson-Fall said the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a vocal ensemble from Fisk University in Tennessee, collected an incredible amount of autographs during their trips.

“It’s photography of documents almost 150 years old,” Wilson-Fall said of the planned items for the display. “There will be original items as well, from 19th century Ravenna, as well as representations of autographs by people like Mark Twain, the Queen of England and some 19th century black notables as well.”

The department has welcomed a new adjunct faculty member, Ericka Abram, as director and curator for the gallery. A committee comprised of students and faculty members will also help make decisions for art in the building, Wilson-Fall said.

Oscar Ritchie Hall reopened one year ago after major renovations. Before renovations, the building featured murals in classrooms and hallways, said Mwatabu Okantah, director of the Center of Pan-African Culture.

Some of this artwork translated into new displays on the first floor of Oscar Ritchie Hall, but the department has been working to make new additions to their art collection in the new space, Okantah said.

Wilson-Fall said the new additions to Oscar Ritchie will not bring back the same memories of the old Oscar Ritchie Hall, but they will create new feelings for a new group of students studying there. She said she anticipates even more art to be up by the end of the year.

“We hope to create new memories commensurate with the old memories—the old memories are our inspiration,” Wilson-Fall said. “We realize that we have an ever-changing student body, so we’re responsible for creating new memories.”

New additions

The Department of Pan-African Studies has also added several other pieces to its new art collection since the start of this academic year.

The additions include new photography in the African Community Theatre green room and a mural made entirely of different colored gumballs on the first floor, Wilson-Fall said.

The second-floor photography collection begins with a photo of Malian women on the Niger River. The exhibit continues with photographs of African people and culture from Mali, Senegal and Ghana.

Christine Lacy from the organization African Sky provided the Niger River piece along with a few other photos from Mali, Wilson-Fall said.

Senegal is represented in the collection by pieces provided by Jennifer Yanco, director of the West African Research Association. Photos from Ghana were actually from family of Pan-African Studies faculty member Christina McVay, she said.

Education Professor Ken Cushner shared the photography displayed in the green room, Wilson-Fall said. The gumball portrait, provided by the King-Kennedy Center, was originally given to the library, which offered the piece for Oscar Ritchie Hall’s collection.

Contact Ellen Kirtner [email protected].