Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum
Washington DC (Free)
December 30, 2014
Although this Smithsonian museum is listed in my Wikipedia “List of Museums Focused on African-Americans,” and it is located in an African-American community, called by a friend the “worst” part of DC, the featured exhibit when we visited was not about African-American culture or history. The exhibit, Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence, instead showcased the beautiful beadwork of a small group of South African women living on a compound owned by a White woman advocate who lobbied the museum’s director, Camille Giraud Akeju, to exhibit the women’s work. While all of the works are gorgeous, the most stunning piece was, by far, the multi-paneled African Crucifixion. This work was initially commissioned for a church, and like much of the women’s art, includes elements honoring their colleagues, family members, and friends lost to AIDS. One of the women who worked on the piece actually died of AIDS soon after it was completed. The exhibit also included a documentary film featuring the artists and their benefactor describing their processes and their experiences that had brought them to Ubuhle.
The museum contains three exhibition spaces, and we saw in the second space the exhibit, Home Sewn: Quilts from the Lower Mississippi Valley. This exhibition included a video showing women sewing together and talking about the value of quilt-making in their lives. What stood out most about this video was its depiction of African-American quilters in Mississippi along with White quilters quilting together. The women reported that this act of quilting together offered some healing power in response to those old, familiar southern tensions between the groups. Of course, the walls of this small room are adorned with quilts from the Valley.
The last exhibit tucked in the back of this museum is Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia. It is comprised mostly of photos of DC’s African-American baseball teams over the years and their owners and coaches and other supporters. It is the one exhibit listed without an ending date. Thus, it is a perfect exhibit to expose a DC baseball fan to some little-known, local baseball history.
Watch this video for more about the Ubuhule women’s artwork:
Check back next Monday, March 16, for a look at the Frederick Douglass Historic Site.