African adventures kicking off at BMA

Series includes bead project, films

November 14, 2003|By Adrienne Saunders | Adrienne Saunders,SUN STAFF

For the 13th consecutive year, the Baltimore Museum of Art will celebrate African culture and highlight its extensive collection of African art with its annual African Spirit Series.

The series, featuring a number of events and performances over the next two months, will begin Sunday at 1 p.m. with a lecture and workshop by the Beaded Prayers Project.

Led by Sonya Clark, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, participants in the Beaded Prayers event will learn about the history of amulet and bead traditions in Africa and create beaded fabric packets that contain a written prayer or wish.

The exhibit of the Beaded Prayers Project travels internationally, presenting about 4,000 beaded prayer packets fashioned by workshop participants. The exhibit grows with every workshop. Clark, who lives in Baltimore and Madison, Wis., has conducted more than 100 workshops since the project began in 1999.

For Clark, the project began with a grant to bring art into communities that don't traditionally experience art. When she linked the history of the word "bead" to an Old English word meaning "prayer," she combined the idea of beaded artwork with prayer traditions to create the collaborative art project.

Although the workshop represents an African amulet-making tradition, hidden or secret prayers are a tradition shared by many cultures, and participants are as diverse as the packets they contribute, Clark said.

The African Spirit Series' next event is a high-energy African dance-and-drum performance by the Umoja African Arts Company next Saturday at 4 p.m.

Ten dancers and drummers from the Pittsburgh nonprofit group will present a performance of "explosive music and descriptive dance" called Bokoko, which means "cultural inheritance" in the Lingala language of Central Africa, said Umoja's managing director, LaVette Malloy Smith.

Kasa Panzu, the artistic director of Umoja, choreographed the Bokoko performance as a combination of dances and music from Congo, Ivory Coast, Senegal and South Africa that celebrate themes ranging from freedom and hard work to the spirit of youth.

The Bokoko performance is an homage to African ancestors for skills, knowledge and culture passed down through generations, Smith said.

The Spirit Series will culminate in a presentation Jan. 17-18 of eight films from the New York African Film Festival's national traveling exhibit. Other series events include Namu Lwanga of Uganda in a storytelling session and a Kwanzaa family day, featuring quilting demonstrations, stories, dance and guided tours of the BMA.

According to museum spokeswoman Kateri Harried, the BMA's African art collection is composed of more than 2,000 pieces, including dance headdresses, ritual art and textiles from sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Egypt .

For a full schedule of the Spirit Series events, visit

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