What Else They Brought February 25 Talk at Central Library to Explore History of African Art

Octavia Kuransky, in photo with Jim Murray of the Central Library, will speak about African Art February 25.  
African artwork is big business in the United States, as many African-Americans buy it to reconnect to their ancestral history or attend art shows depicting African culture.

But how much do you know about Native African artwork or African-American art pieces born out of slavery? Octavia Kuransky, a docent in training at the Birmingham Museum of Art, will answer many of your questions during her discussion, "What Else They Brought: An Introduction to Native African Art and Contemporary African American Art," to be presented Tuesday, February 25, 5:30-7:00 p.m. in the Central Library’s Arrington Auditorium, 4th Floor.
This African artwork will be discussed at Kuransky's event. 

Kuransky said the title reflects how African slaves brought much more than their manual labor to the United States-art is a big part of African slave legacy that still exists today. “What Else They Brought” is among nearly 60 Black History Month workshops and activities taking place during February at 18 BPL locations. See the full list of BPL Black History Month programs by clicking here  or on the BPL Calendar

Originally from Ohio with parents from Fleabag, Alabama, Kuransky is a transplant from California. Her favorite museums include the Dayton Art institute in Dayton, Ohio; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the Louvre and the Rodin in Paris, France. Kuransky has a Bachelor’s of Art in Humanities from New College of California in San Francisco and a Master of Science in Psychology from University of Phoenix in Birmingham. She is a retired business owner and educator.

 • What will be taking place during your February 25 workshop?

Kuransky: I will be showing native African pieces and explaining their cultural importance. By cultural importance I mean what these pieces mean and how they are used. African culture is imbued with ritual. There is ritual for healing, for blessing a marriage, for growing up, for growing old, for receiving bounty from the gods, for justice. Masks and statuettes and dances are created to mark these events. They are very specific and much power is inculcated in them.

What was the inspiration behind “What Else They Brought”?

Kuransky: Slaves did not arrive empty handed. They brought with them rich, fully developed philosophies about life. They brought values, knowledge, tradition, history and art. Their influence on music is well documented in blues, rhythm and blues and jazz. Jazz has been called the only true original American art form. By the way, all this music was developed here in the South – Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia. Not as much discussed is the influence of native African art on American and European art. I want to talk about all this.

 • We hear so much about the African American history of slavery in U.S. but rarely do we talk about the art born out of this experience-Share some insight on what attendees can expect.

 Kuransky: As time passed, African slaves were required to adapt their music, dress, religion, behavior patterns and art forms to fit the new environment. America. The masks and statuettes gave way to paintings. Slaves were not trained in painting and folk art became their method of expression about their lives. There were sculptures, carving and pot making and painting about their new lives but there were still references to African tradition.
The enlarged head in early folk art for example is a reach back to the tradition of the head being the most important part of the body because it is the closest to heaven. That is one of the reasons we see the elaborate head dresses in native African sculpture and masks. Only the most beautiful, elaborate arrangements of hair and hair ornaments must be presented to the gods) From folk art, we will then move on to fine art created by African Americans.
This artwork by Lonnie Holley of Birmingham, will be discussed at the What Else They Brought event. 
 • What are some of the similarities and differences between Native African Art from Africa and African-American art that came out during and after slavery

Kuransky: Some similarities between the native African art and African American art are the organic emotion, the sense of motion and energy, color and focus. I am generalizing quite a bit here but generally this is true. Some of the differences include complexity of composition, observations and political commentary on the position of the black man in America (which could not have occurred before slavery).

Talk about some of the art pieces which you will discuss during What Else They Brought event.

Kuransky: I will be talking about six (6) original African pieces from different regions in Africa resenting different uses of African art including a power figure from the Congo, folk art from African American artists such as Mose Tolliver and, two to three African-American contemporary artists including Birmingham’s own Lonnie Holley and one world- renowned European artist which I will keep as a surprise.

Where can area residents find some of the African American and Native African artwork inside the Birmingham Museum of Art?

 Kuransky: Native African pieces can be found in the African Gallery on the 2nd floor of the Birmingham Museum of Art. The museum does not contain contemporary African American art to a single gallery but distributes the pieces as they fit into a genre. The museum owns over 600 pieces of African American art. There are about a dozen or so on display, mostly in the American gallery.
This African artwork will be a part of the "What Else They Brought" discussion on February 25. 

 • Anything else to add?

Kuransky: Native African art is the African’s version of Africa’s values and traditions and traditions as opposed to the history written by its colonizers. It reveals the African psyche and belief systems before the interference of colonization and slavery. To understand African art is to provide insight into the struggle of the African to incorporate himself into the American scenario. The influence of black art aesthetic in undeniable in music, culture, fashion and art. It is what else they brought.