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Transformations - New Directions in Black Art

Transformations - New Directions in Black Art has been rescheduled for October 22-25, 2009 at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). This will be the launch event for MICA's new Center for Race and Culture.

Online Registration for the Transformations Conference is now closed

The past year has witnessed an unprecedented series of social, political and economic events that have thrust the role of the arts into a new arena of definition and agency. This conference is even more important and crucial than when it was first scheduled to be held last November 2008.

It will be a "call and response" town hall meeting that invites dialogue between interdisciplinary artists, scholars, the community and arts professionals. This is an opportunity to address the role of the Black artist, who once functioned at the margin of society to a newfound position of centrality within the global art world.

The theme of the 3rd Annual African American Art conference references "Transformers," a popular toy product and subsequent film that captivated the general public with the possibilities and the challenges that the state of transforming implies. That such images are germane to African American visual arts is indicated by images created by California artist David Huffman and a self-proclaimed group of Afro-Futurists who look beyond the present and revel in the promise of the future that we expected from advances in technology.

The image of transformation therefore amply exemplifies the rapid changes and transmutations of blackness and African-ness which can be observed in today's trans-global cultural scene. The conference will identify and explore the current modalities-some new and some revived-that mark the means of exchange and interaction between visual creativity and daily life. These range from the ubiquitous presence and impact of technology-from interactive sites on the web, to iPods to iPhones and beyond-to the implications of global perspectives on traditional and habitual notions of self-identification through ethnicity, race and gender.

The proliferation of these photo/image-based, digital tools in art making suggests that once again there is a consideration of the relationship between "art" and "craft." Can the latter be seen as a countercultural reaction against the cybernetic? Does skill matter in a mechanized environment? For that matter it is also imperative to examine the phenomenon of "star" power and how that impacts the manner in which creators direct their careers and how this impacts the presence of black creativity in the larger world art market.

In light of these questions posed around the role and nature of creativity, it is also necessary to take another look at the relationship between the arts-both on the part of creators and institutions-with that ever-changing entity that is known as community. What are community arts in 2008 versus 1968? Is "community" a fixed geographic or locational entity or is it an emotional, psychological bonding of kindred spirits across time and space? Is the community the perceived audience of black creativity?

Transformations is the 3rd Annual African American Art Conference which was the outcome of a meeting inspired by and hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University in 2005.

MICA is pleased to host Transformations as the official launch of the new Center for Race and Culture (CRC), an interactive Center for research to investigate the dynamics of race, culture and it's relationship to art-makings, traditions and practice. It will prepare students for informed leadership roles in the regional, national and international art world. The CRC will be a site where scholars, doctoral candidates, artists, critics, musicians, actors and historians can research or create events, exhibitions, projects or performances that focus on the aesthetic dynamics of race and culture with the intent to break down racial barriers, build bridges of cultural understanding and cultivate meaningful and productive relationships for the future of our world.

The Transformations conference seeks to use this opportunity to pay critical attention to the role of the art maker in society and institutions committed to the education, exhibition, research and preservation of the cultural heritage and aesthetic agency in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The catharsis of shifts and changes that have always been the hallmark of a society's creativity and contribution to history-past, present and future-will be explored in the dynamics of this conference through interactions with artists, scholars, critics, community activists, educators and gallery entrepreneurs.

The intent of the conference is to create and stimulate dialogue by examining the nature, range and the myriad of "black" identities that have emerged and been redefined within the larger society as a result of the urgencies of globalism, the environment, politics, the economy and technology. It is hoped that this will encourage and foster new relationships, partnerships and collaborations for future initiatives in the arts across cultures, breaking down or dissolving old boundaries to make way for a world where the artist and the arts are strategic to not just image and object making but crucial to problem solving for the future of our world and our communities.

Transformations will be supported by a collaborating partnership of arts and cultural institutions in the city of Baltimore that include the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, the James E. Lewis Museum at Morgan State University, the Center for Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University, the Joshua Johnson Foundation at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, Maryland Art Place, Creative Alliance at the Patterson, C. Grimaldis Gallery, Goya Contemporary, Galerie Myrtis and Irvine Contemporary in Washington, DC.

Panel Discussions

  • "Art and Craft: Closing the Gaps"
  • "Technology and the Arts: Accessibility in the Marketplace"
  • "Genius Factor Vs. Star Power"
  • "Popular Culture: New Genres and Cross Over"
  • "The Artist, the Institution and the Community: Redefining a Relationship"
  • "Brave New Worlds: Globalism, Ethnicity and Nationalism"

Special Events

  • Exhibition reception for Transformers II - More Than Meets the Eye
  • Keynote presentation DJ SPOOKY (aka Paul D. Miller) - That Subliminal Kid
  • Open galleries & dance party at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum
  • "Synergy" performance at MICA's BBOX Theater in Gateway, our newest addition to campus
  • Jazz/Gospel Brunch Reception, James E. Lewis Museum, Morgan State University
  • Sunday Salon Receptions at Galerie Myrtis, Grimaldis Gallery, Goya Contemporary, and Loring Cornish's Praise Houses

Image: Phillip Mallory Jones, Storytime, digital painting.

Who's Attending

  1. Conference Participants

    • Derrick Adams, MICA painting faculty and curatorial director of Rush Arts Gallery & Resource Center, New York
    • Dawoud Bey, photographer, Columbia College, Chicago
    • Willie Birch '73, painter, sculptor, and educator, The Porch, New Orleans
    • Berrisford Boothe '86, painter and digital artist, Lehigh University
    • Iona Rozeal Brown, painter whose works are inspired by ganguro fashion, Washington
    • Rashida Bumbray, assistant curator, The Kitchen, New York
    • Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, interdisciplinary artist, Massachusetts College of Art
    • Sonya Clark, fiber artist, Virginia Commonwealth University
    • Brett Cook, public and collaborative artist, Disney
    • Sandra Jackson-Dumont, adjunct curator and deputy director of Education & Public Programs, Seattle Art Museum
    • Maren Hassinger, sculptor and director of MICA's Rinehart School of Sculpture
    • David Huffman, artist and Afro-futurist, San Francisco
    • Ulysses Jenkins, performance artist, Los Angeles
    • Lauren Kelley '97, mixed media artist, AIR/Studio Museum in Harlem
    • Philip Mallory Jones, multi-media artist, Ohio University
    • Stephen Marc, photographer, Arizona State University
    • Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, editor of Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture
    • Aminah Robinson, fiber artist and 2004 MacArthur Fellow, Columbus, Ohio
    • Deirdre Scott, director of technology, Studio Museum, New York
    • Joyce Scott, multimedia artist, Baltimore
    • Dr. Lowery Sims H '88, curator, Museum of Arts and Design, New York
    • Franklin Sirmans, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Menil Collection, Houston
    • Dr. David Terry, executive director of Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, Baltimore
    • Jacqueline Tarry and Bradley McCallum, collaborative mixed media performance, New York
    • Randi Vega, Director of Cultural Affairs for Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA)
    • Dr. Ben Vinson, director, Center for Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University
    • Kara Walker, internationally renowned artist and 1997 MacArthur Fellow, New York
    • Dr. Deborah Willis H'06, art photographer, historian of African American photography, and 2001 MacArthur Fellow, New York
    • Saya Woolfalk, experimental multi-media artist, New York