by Penny Powell
In her column, Momma’s Home, Penny Powell will share her journey of being a stay-at-home mom to 10-year-old, Caleb, son of her and her husband, Collin. Momma’s Home will take you inside the home, mind, heart and soul of this stay-at-home mother who believes that her opportunity to be an at-home parent is one of her greatest motherhood blessings. “It’s an invaluable way to celebrate my son’s life — every day,” she says. Penny invites you to write to her at Momtoaboy@aol.com.
Some of my fondest memories of growing up in my family’s Bermuda home include living up-close and personal with the African art that adorned it — specifically the large cedar map of Africa that was handmade by my dad, the late Ainsworth Norwood (Kebede) Burgess. My father tirelessly carved — from sweet-smelling Bermuda cedar wood — all 54 countries that make up the continent of Africa. Then, he connected each shape to present the map of Africa in its entirety. This is my favorite piece of art of all time and is a masterpiece that continues to hang in our homestead. I recall the way that unique map caught the eyes of every visitor who stepped down into our sunken living room in the house my dad built with his brothers.
That cedar map of Africa sturdily hung on our living room wall for years and did not fall until after my dad’s passing in 1996. However, it was returned to its rightful place and has not taken a fall since that time. Due to the deeply spiritual nature of the African carver, many Africans would probably believe that my dad’s carving carried some form of spiritual life — perhaps a piece of my dad’s soul. Maybe that’s one way he communicated with my mom after he passed since she was the only one who witnessed the fall and could confirm that the map had never taken a plunge to the floor before that time!
This artwork of my favorite carver, my dad, recently returned to the forefront of my mind after attending “The Majesty of African Motherhood,” an exhibit currently on display at the Ritz Theatre and LaVilla Museum in Jacksonville, Fla. I, along with a dear friend and partner in education, Charo Simpson, were blessed to receive an invitation to attend a related orientation. The exhibit is owned by Herman Bigham and Associates, a collective of (primarily African) presenters, preservers and scholars of African Art.
Dr. Ameka Anonyuo, one of the scholars and a Nigerian professor at Savannah College of Arts and Design, helped Charo and I tap into the real majesty behind such a powerful, undoubtedly spiritual, exhibit.
“Mothers are the cornerstone of many cultures — Africa being one of them,” stated Dr. Anonyuo. “It’s important to know the place of the mother!” he said with a genuine and spiritual respect and adoration for mothers, worldwide. As he helped us to comprehend the magnitude of the numerous mother-with-child sculptures surrounding us at the LaVilla Museum, Dr. Anonyuo noted that the female figures in the exhibit represent continuity of the African race. It was a profound and moving experience to travel through this exhibit with him as he interpreted the deepest story behind this phenomenal art.
When a woman is shown carrying items on her head in African art, Dr. Anonyuo explained the importance of not misinterpreting that as a female weakness or any kind. Instead, it’s quite the opposite. The carrying of items above a woman’s head represents the power/strength she possess in holding up her family and her community.
If a woman’s breasts are exaggerated in an African sculpture, that is not to be simply observed from physical eyes, either. Instead, she is saying: “I have too much of this love to give!” Dr. Anonyuo explained. The color of the wood used for African sculptures also has a significant meaning; every feature has great purpose!
Dr. Anonyuo discussed the various types of art — traditional art, authentic traditional, court, contemporary, and souvenir art. To help support just how spiritual this creative process is for many African carvers, he stated that there is “no word for art in some parts of Africa.” He continued: “Authentic Traditional Art has nothing to do with man — human man!” The carver of such art is probably not an “ordinary person” and could be “pushed away from the world,” because of the magnitude of his spirit. These sculptors, from various Sub-Saharan and West Africa groups, “were consecrated by diviners to imbue them with spiritual substance so they could be used as vehicles to intercede with the spiritual world.”
The African carver meticulously works on himself before carving carefully selected wood. He undergoes a spiritual journey of fasting and meditation and perhaps even consults an herbalist as a means of cleansing himself to express himself — through the art — via a higher power. The spirit voices of such a carver will not allow him to just chop wood from any tree, but he firsts follows a spiritual leading to just the right tree for the process. The carver also uses white limestone to consecrate his working space prior to the carving journey and does not work from the tree known as “Anunuebe,” because birds do not even perch on that type of tree, Dr. Anonyuo said.
According to Dr. Anonyuo: “The Nyama-dynamic force, vital force of electricity radiated by this collection, aptly entitled, ‘The Majesty of African Motherhood,’ is too intense for anyone to ignore. Self-discovery that appears to me to be the most important discovery, which if/when accessed, births self-esteem, is the underlying goal of this exhibition.”
“The Majesty of African Motherhood” is on display at the Ritz Theatre and LaVilla Museum in Jacksonville, Fla., until June 9, 2006. Contact 904-632-5555