PRESERVING VISUAL MEMORIES
Since December, the Weatherspoon Art Museum has been exhibiting artwork by Dr. Frank Woods, emeritus professor of the African American and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) program at UNCG. Woods directed this program from 1994-2008 and was pivotal in its growth.
Its current director, Dr. Noelle Morrissette credits Woods’ leadership in UNCG’s AADS program’s advancement. “During his twelve years of service as program director, he supported students’ overwhelming enthusiasm for African American Studies, brought their interests to the attention of the university, and implemented the major in African American Studies in 2002.”
Throughout his career at UNCG, Woods sought to uncover the memories of creative African Americans whose work had faded from our nation’s cultural memory. Despite an extensive liberal arts education that included a BFA at UNC-Chapel Hill, an MFA in studio arts at UNCG, and a Ph.D. in art history from the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, Ohio, Dr. Woods claimed to be woefully unaware of the many contributions of African American artists to American culture. He began to unearth stories of these artists, filmmakers, and musicians, which culminated in his publication African American Pioneers in Art, Film & Music (2013).
“I have enjoyed a successful and rewarding career as an art historian who has researched and taught the triumphs and tragedies of what it has meant to be a Black artist in America,” Woods says. ”As part of that process, I chose to paint portraits of several of my ‘artist heroes,’ knowing that I, in a very modest way, stand on the shoulders of their pioneering efforts.”
“Initially, these paintings were for my personal gratification as small tributes and a way to help me to hone my portrait-painting skills. But as their numbers grew, I realized that they formed a unique collection of visual ‘memories,’ and I am honored to now share them publicly.”
The collection, titled “Redeeming Memories: Portraits of Pioneering African American Artists” runs through March 4 at the Weatherspoon. Viewing the portraits of Black artists throughout history as painted by UNCG’s very own emeritus professor of AADS is an opportunity not to be missed during Black History Month.
UNDERSTANDING BEYOND THE SURFACE
In addition to his exhibit, the Weatherspoon will host an artist’s talk featuring Dr. Woods at 4 p.m. on February 14, which is also Frederick Douglass Day. The talk is free and open to the public.
In his presentation, “Painting and Passing: Robert Duncanson’s Dilemma of Racial Identity,” Woods will discuss one of his portrait subjects. From the early 1850s until his death, Robert Duncanson painted landscapes that solidified his rank among American artists of his time, a feat that was unheard of because the dominant culture regarded African Americans as inferior and treated them as such.
Most art historians note that Duncanson’s racial ancestry is “problematic” in reference to his success as an artist. Dr. Woods instead studied Duncanson as a racially blended artist who seemed to move easily between the races. His studies raise questions of racial identity and how racial lines could be blurred throughout history to further artistic or personal success.
Dr. Woods’ talk will unofficially kick off AADS’s annual Conference on African American and African Diasporic Cultures and Events (CACE) scheduled for February 21-22. Registration is open to UNCG, greater Greensboro and the surrounding communities. UNCG’s AADS department has been organizing this conference of speakers and workshops since 1989. It is intended to bring interdisciplinary minds together for community advancement. Speakers are invited from institutions across the country and AADS majors, who go on to hold positions of leadership and advocacy, participate each year.
The 2023 CACE theme is Bridge Builders: Black Dialogues, Connections and Transformations and will acknowledge the creative and scholarly work of, none other than, Dr. Frank Woods.
“CACE is excited to honor Dr. Woods’ legacy as a leader of AADS, an educator, a creative, and a scholar,” says Morrissette. ”Through his example we see the way that our lives, work, struggle, art, scholarship, and friendship hold us together. Dr. Woods’ bridge building connects us as a campus and transforms us through dialogues about African American and African Diasporic spaces and communities, here at UNCG and in the world at large.”
Story by Becky Deakins, University Communications
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications