The legendary Fela Kuti currently “lives” on Broadway in the Tony-winning musical FELA! But just a few blocks away, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute looks at Fela’s immortality. It’s a new art exhibit that examines how this pioneering Nigerian musician not only inspired a country and people around the world with his music and fight for freedom and justice, but how his message lives on after his death. “People have been dancing to Fela, studying Fela’s music for quite some time. It’s not a gimmick for us, this is actually something that’s in line with what we’ve been doing the whole time. When the Broadway play is done, we’ll still be celebrating Fela,” said Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute Education Director Desiree Gordon.
Among the works at the CCADIE is “The Santana Group,” a family art collective. “The technical term for this is the lenticular print, and some people like to call it a hologram. But what it is, is a mash-up or a remix or a collage of photographs that my mom had taken when she was in Africa,” said artist Ali Santana. What I do is I go on a computer and I’ll illustrate over the photograph. And so what I did here is I did a vector image of my mother’s photograph. I actually chose two photographs because they had to change and had to move,” said artist Rafia Santana.
Artist Amanda Adams-Louis captured moments of Fela’s influence today. “My interest is in his musical, his performance, and his dance legacy — on the sense that I have pictures of contemporary dance groups performing to his music,” said Adams-Louis.
The artists at the CCADIE are also dealing with many contemporary issues including violence, gay rights and the environment. Several artists here took on Fela’s relationship with woman. Artist Jasimine Pennywell is even featured in a painting of his many wives. “So I think what Fahama wanted to do was to portray the emotional , intimacy but also the appreciation and purpose for having the women around him that he had because in America that was, been one of the discrepancies why he had so many wives,” said Pennywell.
Kuti died in 1997 but his music and message live on and continue to inspire art and activism around the world.
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