Remembering black history on campus

Martina Green and her daughter Erin get crafty with masks.
Martina Green and her daughter Erin get crafty with masks.

The Agnes Etherington Art Centre was a flurry of colour and excitement Sunday as families gathered for a mask-making event celebrating Black History Month.

The event is one of many taking place in the community this February, and also corresponds with the centre’s current exhibit The Dancer Transformed: Masks of West Africa.

Pat Sullivan, the public programs officer at the centre and organizer of the event, said it’s important to recognize Black History Month.

“Obviously Black History Month is an important thing to celebrate, and part of our role is to reach out to the community,” she said, adding that the centre has 600 works of African art, although not all on display. “It is really important to make the public aware of the artwork.”

Around 40 people of all ages gathered for a tour of masks from countries like Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso.

“These masks are used in traditional dances and ceremonies in western and central Africa,” Sarah Smith, ArtSci ’06 and a student docent at the centre, told the audience.

The event was led by Kingston-area artist educator Aïda Sulcs, who said art is one way children can learn about Black History Month.

“It helps the kids relate to black history through their own experiences with making something,” she said.

Other University groups and committees are also hosting events over the next few weeks to recognize Black History Month.

The Committee Against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination (CARED), which is run by the Social Issues Commission, has organized two film screenings to mark the month.

“I think Black History Month is important everywhere,” said Romany Craig, ArtSci ’08 and committee member. “Especially at Queen’s, because although there is diversity, we’re not reflective of Canadian society at large.”

She said she feels the month is needed to promote awareness about black involvement in Canadian history.

“There tends to be within education a lack of mention [of] black contribution in history,” Craig explained. For example, she said, black United Empire Loyalists aren’t even mentioned in most historical discussion.

“[This creates] a stereotypical view of what a loyalist is,” she said.

Barrington Walker, an assistant professor in the history department who specializes in race and immigration in Canada, agreed that black history is often overlooked.

“People of African descent have been in the Americas for some 400 years and have had a tremendous impact on historical development of the Americas,” he said. “Their history, more often than not, goes unrecognized.”

Walker said he hopes the month will help community members take a different perspective on North American history.

“I hope this month will give all members of the University community a chance to learn something about the history of blacks in Canada specifically and the Americas in general,” he said.

“Although looking at black history as a separate entity is valuable, ultimately what needs to happen is to recognize black history [as an] important part of all of our histories. A recognition and celebration of Black History Month helps.” Craig said CARED’s first event, a Feb. 1 screening of the film “Tidemarks: Legacies of Apartheid” was a success.

“It went really well, we had amazing turnout,” she said. “The room was full.”

The second event was a screening yesterday of the film “Amandala! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony” and a discussion with Tiffany Jones, a history professor who specializes in African history.

Sullivan said the second event at the Agnes Etheringston Art Centre is an Art Matters talk on Feb. 16, which will present a dialogue between Sullivan and philosophy professor Jon Miller about the philosophical aspects of African art.

Other upcoming events include a screening of “Ontario: A History Buried” tomorrow organized by the Kingston Area Race Relations Association, a children’s story hour on Feb. 24 organized by the Ban Righ Centre and a Spoken Word Hip-Hip Poetry Show on Feb. 25 at the Scherzo Pub.

For further information, visit Official Black History Month Kingston! Guides are available at Queen’s Human Rights Office and the Kingston Frontenac Public Library.

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