It is fitting that my first blog post is about the Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. exhibition that I just displayed at Indiana University's Fine Arts Library.
The exhibition taught me about the many facets of opening, curating, marketing, and closing an art show.
More information on the show can be found here.
For those of you who are Kennedy fans this is the speech that I gave at the closing reception of the show:
It has been such an amazing experience to be able to work with Amos Paul Kennedy Jr.’s posters and artists’ books for the past few months. I was exposed to Kennedy’s works last spring while taking the Art Librarianship course with past director, Kristina Keogh. I am going to give you all some background on Kennedy before I delve into his art,
Kennedy grew up in the Deep South and saw racial injustice when growing up. Both of his parents were well educated and when Kennedy was in Middle school, he and his parents moved to Michigan. In Michigan, Amos was the only Black child at his school; much of his thoughts on diversity and social change must have come from this time.
Kennedy had a rather indirect way in becoming an artist. After graduating from college, Kennedy became a very successful systems analyst for AT& and stayed in the profession for more than two decades. --all the while something was missing from his life. When visiting colonial Williamsburg VA, he saw a printmaker using an antique print machine.
Kennedy was enthralled by this mechanism of the print press and loved the product that it made. Amos came into the print making in a very unique time, as many printers from the early 20th century, or their children were giving away presses. Kennedy got his hands on one and soon after began studying under the renowned graphic designer, Walter Hamady , at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. After graduating with an MFA, Kennedy was offered a position as the first African American faculty member at the Indiana University School of Fine Arts. He taught at IU from 1999-2001. While at IU, he was known for holding Barbeques, skipping contests, and was the definition of the "embedded" professor, as he was at school until very late at night.
After an incident that I will explain later, he decided that the bureaucracy of IU was not for him, so for the next decade, he dedicated himself to his art, learning from other print makers and observing their craft.
In the early 2010s, Kennedy moved back to the Detroit area. Just this past year, he became a USA Glasgow follow, where he was awarded$50,000 to use for art.
Kennedy's artists' books all have a central meaning to impart to the reader, whether proverb or poem, image or text. Many of his artist books contain text from proverbs or poems by African Americans.
Of the collection that we have at IU, I believe that "Mask Book" is the best representation of Kennedy's genius, where artists' book creator and printmaker combine. Each page is intricately printed and has a unique fold and sewing pattern.
Another unique artists' book is the African Proverbs necklace. This necklace is a copy of one that he made for his partner, Elena Bertozzi. In the display case behind me, you can see the initial part of the project and the final product. The same goes for the Proverbs of the Georgia Islands - you see each iteration of the printing process.
One of the best things about Kennedy's works is the fact that readers are left with a new perspective of the world. Nappygrams are a perfect example of this - these postcards were items that Amos would distribute when he felt something needed to be said. The postcards that he created about IU represent this perfectly.
My first exposure to Kennedy was his provocative book, Strange Fruit, which documents the 3514 African Americans who were lynched and burned between 1892 and 1927. The book was so beautiful, yet so haunting, much like the Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit.
I knew that it would be great to exhibit Kennedy's works for Black History Month, as they present such a vibrant and strong reflection of the African story both in North America and in Africa. I believe that this is an ideal time to exhibit these works because of the social injustice and unrest that exist in America today.
As one of Kennedy's posters reads, "Art Informs". These issues were going on in the early 90s, and are still going on today. The "it takes a community to murder a child" collection reminded me of how much gun violence there was in the past year. And how many more cards would be in the case. As I wrote this last night, a dark sense of bewilderment came over me. Have we not progressed at all as a society? Then I remember that it is this type of art that provokes us to question our society.
Much of Kennedy’s works are like this. When reading the text, such as “it takes a community to murder a child” or “burn the nigger”, it creates a very morbid feeling inside, almost embarrassment.
Kennedy's prints and artists' books make us reflect and think where we are as a society. I would like to end this talk with a moment of silence dedicated to the innocent children and people that Kennedy has us remember.
The most important thing I learned in this exhibition is teamwork - I was lucky to have a dedicated set of colleagues from the Society of Art Librarianship Students, who helped me greatly.