Keepers of Culture at the PRX Podcast Garage

Event Review

by Anna Schuman

31 January 2018

Left: Ekua Holmes, Right: Vusumuzi Maduna (1940 - 2007)

On January 23rd at the PRX Podcast Garage in Allston, visitors engaged with the work of Ekua Holmes and Vusumuzi Maduna (1940 – 2007) through the act of pure observation. Each of the artists live[ed] and work[ed] in Boston. Holmes, who received her BFA in Photography from MassArt in ‘77, serves as the Boston Art Commission and is deeply involved in public art initiatives across the city. The event was hosted by Tamar Avishi of The Lonely Palette podcast–a show that is devoted to making art and art discourse accessible. This [articular episode, “Keepers of Culture,” invited the audience to be in conversation with Holmes about being an artist in Boston.

Upon arrival, attendees were prompted by Tamar Avishai to describe observations and reactions to Holmes’ work. In doing this, Avishai aimed to make art less intimidating, more accessible, and ultimately more universally enjoyable. By asking museum and gallery attendees to simply describe what they see, she removes the perception of art as elitist– reserved only for those with a background in art history.  She challenges viewers to embraces a mode of viewing art that is so often overlooked; our ability to simply observe.

That night, Avishai led a discussion with Ms. Holmes which explored her life artistic career. Following the recorded observations, Holmes began to describe the piece from her perspective, with the preface that the viewer’s observations are never wrong, even if they were not her intentions. The two figures in her collage painting are children from her childhood in Roxbury, running home after an afternoon of playing outside. The home, painted in yellow with a flame rising from its roof, evokes a sense of warmth and love. Holmes paints with bright, primary colors to evoke the joyfulness of youth. Crowns rest on the heads of the children, a symbol of ancestral pride. The scraps of paper used in her work are sourced from hundreds of old newspapers, advertisements, labels, and phone books that she has collected over the years. “Holmes’ work is both biographical and fantastical, as she depicts childhood memories, now elevated by magical elements

While Holmes’ work is personal and playful, Maduna offers a differing, yet equally impactful take on black identity. Maduna saw the essentiality of cultural preservation and the celebration of the African legacy as it relates to the African American experience. His work pays tribute to African, Caribbean, and Native American cultures, which his African name, Vusumuzi, meaning “builder of culture”, encompasses. Maduna believes “people gather strength through their roots, and it is through art we hear our ancestral voices.”

To close off the evening, lifelong friend of Holmes and Maduna, Edmund Barry Gaither, gave reflecting comments that placed both artist’s work in the context of communicating and celebrating the African American experience. Gaither is the director and curator of the museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists, located in Roxbury and Nantucket.

Select works by Ekua Holmes and Vusumuzi “Vuzi” Maduna are currently on display the PRX Podcast Garage, located in Allston. The event was filmed and will be available for viewing on forum-network.org in the following weeks. For more information about the event and the artists, visit the Podcast Garage.