STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON/For Digital First Media
To celebrate Black History Month and to showcase internationally-known basketry, the Wayne Art Center exhibits “The National Art of Botswana: Contemporary Art and Craft.”
In addition to the baskets, the exhibit includes paintings, prints, and photographs from the African nation, which sits just north of South Africa. The exhibit also features a series of educational programs: basket making demonstrations, a curator’s talk, a lecture entitled “The Impact of Diamonds on Health & Culture in Botswana and the Global Ramifications,” and African block printing workshops (for ages 6 through 8 and ages 9 through 12).
“This exhibition and related educational programs are an important opportunity to create a rich cultural exchange between the artists of Botswana and our community,” said Nancy Campbell, executive director of the Wayne Art Center (WAC). “It’s a great way to educate our community about the roots of black history and what goes on in other cultures.”
The curator, Phillip Segola, and basket maker Moruledi Jeremiah recently traveled from Botswana for the installation and the opening reception. All work is for sale and will benefit the artists of Botswana.
The exhibit comes to fruition after a two-year effort by the Wayne Art Center, the Republic of Botswana (which is underwriting it), and the Botswana Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture, with assistance from Botswana Ambassador to the U.S., Tebelelo Seretse, and Dr. Harvey and Cindy Friedman.
Cindy is a professional artist in the Philadelphia region. She works with silk and makes quilts. Dr. Friedman is Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who, for more than 13 years, has been the Director of the Botswana-UPenn Partnership (BUP), comprised of the Government of Botswana, the University of Botswana, and the University of Pennsylvania. BUP aims to bring quality health care to populations in need. Through BUP, the Friedmans visit Botswana several times a year. While her husband “does his thing, I go and play with the artists,” Cindy said.
Every year, the National Museum in Botswana does a juried show and Friedman buys a piece or two.
“My suitcase is too small,” she said. “I can’t bring it all home.”
So now the work comes to Wayne. And curator Phillip Segola, an artist with a couple of pieces in the show, chose to showcase the baskets. Botswana’s basketry is internationally known and the reputation of the beauty of their crafts is overtaking the reputation of being known as a diamond-producing country, he said.
“For the nation as a whole, creative industries are the way to go. People cannot be stripped of their dignity” through the arts, he said.
The works are so beautiful that “we put them on a pedestal for people to look at our crafts,” he said.
Segola’s mostly excited that the work will be seen in a gallery in America. Botswana is a smaller country of about 2 million people, about as big as Texas, and there aren’t as many art galleries as there are here.
“Coming to a place like this and having an exhibit here, we’re taking this opportunity very seriously. We hope to use it to launch for bigger things,” he said. “And we hope that we can deepen this relationship with the Wayne Art Center.”
Campbell hopes that the community will appreciate the multi-cultural aspect of an exhibit like this and will take advantage by seeing the works and meeting the people from Botswana who will be here participating.
“We’re honored to have this opportunity to bring these artists here,” she said, “and it’s been exciting to have met them.”
IF YOU GO
What: “The National Art of Botswana”
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mon.-Sat., now through March 14.
Where: Wayne Art Center, 413 Maplewood Ave., Wayne, Pennsylvania 19087.
Info.: Call 610-688-3553 or visit www.wayneart.org.