Performers focus on African art, culture


August 12, 1998|By Kathy Curtis | Kathy Curtis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HISTORIC OAKLAND vibrated to the beat of West African drums Sunday as two members of the Anansegromma Storytelling Theatre Company performed for the first session of "Passport to African Art and Culture" at the African Art Museum of Maryland.

Ghana natives Emmanuel Roger Dennis, also known as "Kofi," and Eric Ansah Brew, also called "Kwame," sang and danced, accompanying themselves on African drums, for a group of 6- to 13-year-olds and their families.

The children are participants in the passport program, which is a series of African-oriented events over the next several weekends sponsored by the museum.

Anansegromma, a Washington group, provides performances and educational programs of drumming, dance, storytelling, songs and games from Ghana.

While leading participants in a circle dance, Brew explained that "dance represents many things."

"We dance in every mood," he said. "It includes the entire cycle of life, from birth to death."

Dennis said that in Africa, "Nonverbal communication is even more important than the things we say." In addition to dance, nonverbal communication includes drumming, style of dress and the way of walking.

Brew demonstrated how men and women put on and walk in a hand-woven kente cloth, a piece of fabric in which, Dennis noted, "every pattern, every color, every symbol means something."

Names also have meaning, Dennis said.

"Kofi" is a name for a male born on a Friday, he said, while "Kwame" indicates a male born on a Saturday.

The two performers invited children and adults to join them in the circle dance.

While Dennis tapped out the beat, Brew taught participants hand and upper body movements.

Earlier in the session, Margaux Pierre, 10, of River Hill had served as a model for Gloria Paul's demonstration of African head wraps.

Paul and her husband, William, run a home-based business in Columbia called the African Connection, which sells African art, clothing and home decorations.

Gloria Paul is a native of Ghana, while her husband's parents come from that country.

Paul described the head wraps as distinctively African. She demonstrated everyday styles and elaborate headdresses for special occasions, using a stiff, richly decorated fabric from Nigeria called gele.

In Africa, she said, women "try to always wear head wraps." The wraps complement their clothing, Paul said.

Another session at the museum, scheduled for Aug. 23, will include videos of Africa, a hands-on display of African art, and a craft activity.

Museum Director Doris Ligon said the videos will show children the diversity of Africa, from big cities to rural areas.

Participants will also have an opportunity to handle items from the museum's collection, including musical instruments, textiles, masks and jewelry.

Artists Patricia Ciricillo of Dorsey's Search and Leah Taylor of Columbia are scheduled to lead a craft activity.

On Aug. 30, participants will go to an Ethiopian restaurant in Baltimore for a meal served on traditional Ethiopian tables. Ligon described them as resembling woven baskets on pedestals.

The group was originally scheduled to visit three embassies in Washington next week, including those of Kenya and Tanzania. However, after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in those countries late last week, Ligon has been making alternate arrangements. A new date has not been set.

Participants in the series receive "passports" with instant photos of themselves and space to record their impressions and gather signatures for each session. The books are being stamped for each event attended.

The series is being funded by a grant from the Columbia Foundation. It is open to children age 6 and older. An adult must accompany each child.

The cost is $20 per child for the series. Adults pay only for the restaurant meal.

A few spaces are available.

Information: 410-730-7105.

Centers get face lifts

Renovations are almost complete at two neighborhood centers owned by the Columbia Association.

Work started in June on the Running Brook neighborhood center, which was built in 1969. The association budgeted $120,000 for the project, said Maggie Brown, director of community services.

The 1,460-square-foot building "has been completely stripped inside," said Brown. The interior is getting new walls, new carpet and tile, new cabinets and shelves. On the outside, the roof is being replaced, and the location of the skylights is being changed.

Vinyl siding is being added to the outside to reduce the need for maintenance. Windows are being rearranged to let in more light.

"The building is old," said Brown. "It was deteriorating."

The 1,490-square-foot Longfellow neighborhood center, built in 1968, is also getting a face lift. The association budgeted $78,000 for the work, which is similar to the improvements at pTC Running Brook. The center is getting a new roof, new windows, vinyl siding and improvements to interior walls.

"I think everybody will be really pleased," said Brown. She expects both projects to be completed before the school year begins.

Nursery moving in

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