African ethnic art exhibit at Milton Public Library starting January 17

African ethnic art exhibit at Milton Public Library starting January 17
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African ethnic art exhibit at Milton Public Library starting January 17

The Milton Public Library will host a display of African banners on the lower level inside and also outside the Keys Community Room. This exhibit was created by Milton artist Beth Neville, who has brought us a lovely presentation for all to enjoy.

America’s rich cultural heritage has many sources around the globe. Ms. Neville celebrates one of them, African ethnic art, in eight hand-stitched cloth banners to be shown at the library. She first learned about African sculpture in New York City in 1958 at Ladislas Segy’s gallery. His book African Sculpture Speaks (New York: Hill and Wang, c1961) pictures wood carvings of animals, humans, and spirit ancestors. The wood carvings were used by secret societies and for religious rituals by the Bakuba and Bambara and other ethnic groups in West Africa. Her inspiration also comes from cloth originally hand-woven by the Asante and Ewe groups in Ghana. Today, the patterns are copied on printed cloth and are used by African American women for colorful celebratory garments.

Much of the fabric in the banners comes from cloth Beth has collected for decades, or that she hand-painted. We are fortunate in the United States to be able to experience and celebrate many cultures. These strands weave together to make a unique art synthesis. She has lived her entire life in multi-cultural communities and she expresses that in her art. She doesn’t believe any one person or group has “exclusive ownership” of a tradition. She has relatives who trace their genetic ancestry back to Africa, Asia, South America and Europe. She embraces them all as part of her rich new American family and she wants her art to reflect them all.

Originally the eight African banners were combined to make one continuous “Great Wall,” displayed on a tan background. In the library they are broken up into two separate installations, one in the lower hall and the other in the Keys Community Room. The Milton artist Joyce Caggiano helped to stitch the borders on the banners. The metal ornaments sewn on the banners are from Nigeria.

In February – which is also Black History Month – Milton Cable TV will be airing four episodes about the creative process Beth used to make the African Banners. To display them in her studio she constructed a flexible wall and that construction is also discussed in the TV series. To create and edit the videos, I employed Milton young people as Technical Assistants. They are Ann Marie Grudem, Meagan Wilson, Grady Stoodt, Arlo Stoodt, Gifty Johnson, and Mercy Osifo. Gifty and Mercy are recent immigrants from Nigeria.

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