Saturday, June 6, 2009
I am delighted that the Africa International House (AIH)has located in my neighborhood, Woodlawn, in Chicago, IL in the 20th Ward. Woodlawn is a community in transition that has the best and worst of neighborhoods that is evolving out of years of economic neglect and urban blight. The best is the development of businesses, housing and services that are being attracted and created in the area. The worst is the gentrification that displaces long term and lower income residents who are being priced out of the area by middle class professionals drawn to the area. Many others have already been displaced as a result of the vast urban development that has left multiple empty lots that scatter the community. The upside of all this development is the community is slowly turning around. The downside is that the residents that have endured years of neglect and high crime and slow and no response from law enforcement and government will not be able to reap the benefits because of increased property taxes. Many apartment buildings are converting to coops whose average cost begins around $200,000. The Alderman, Willie Cochran and his Chief of Staff, Karin Norrington-Reeves have assured concerned citizens that affordable housing is a high priority in the development plan.
One of the newest residents attracted to the Woodlawn Community is Africa International House (AIH). AIH seeks to expose and educate people in the Chicago area to the individual works and collective contributions of African culture. I stumbled upon the newly located AIH in the Harris Park Recreation Center located at 6200 S.Drexel where I take water aerobics. At the time they were featuring their Traditional African Art Exhibit which ran April 17-May 2, 2009. The Exhibit included sculptures in wood, bronze and stones from the following ethnic groups: Igbo, Baoule, Senufo, Bobo, Dogon, Bambara, Dan-Kpelle, Shona, Nupe, Yoruba, Edo, Pende, Barnum, Tchokwe and Baga. While the objects reflect many similarities they also depict the functional aspect of art in African cultures. Dayo Laoye, Curator maintains the following about Shona sculpture,"All Shona sculpture maybe understood as a spiritual expression. The interaction between carver and stone is an interaction of spirits-each enhancing and elevating the other within the spiritual continuum of all life."
AIH has projected an itinerary into the end of the year that includes some of the following: art exhibits, dance workshops, history, music and drum classes, African Diaspora Film Festival, social networking, sports (soccer), art and craft marketing, reading and writing festival and photography exhibit.
One of the biggest annual events hosted by the AIH is the African Festival of the Arts. The 20th Annual Chrysler Financial African Festival of the Arts will continue its summer tradition that features hundreds of vendors that represent a full continuum of wares and products from the African world. It has become on of the key venues for not only African music but it also features world music representing diverse genre.
Above are some pictures I took during my most recent visit when I attended a presentation that AIH hosted for dance instructors from recreational centers in Chicago. The event, complete with music and food was intended to expose the dance instructors to African dance in the hope that they would include it in their existing repertoire. For more information on AIH visit their website at: www.AfricaInternationalHouse.org
Q. How are you nurturing your cultural roots? What have you done recently to support the cultural arts in your community?
Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah A. Rahman