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BU hosts African American art history research symposium

Visiting scholars brought their African American art history research to a symposium at Boston University last Friday and Saturday, presenting to an audience of students and community members. The symposium, “African American Art History: Present Coordinates,” included scholars from Columbia University, University of São Paulo, Howard University and more.

Shannon Bewley, a doctoral candidate in the History of Art and Architecture department and lead organizer of the event, said during the event it was “a pleasure” to bring the art historians to BU.

“It’s just been excellent to see everybody talking, getting to know each other, talking about really big and challenging questions for art history and architectural history,” Bewley said at the event.

African American Art History: Present Coordinates
Anthony Ramos, Stolen Moments Film Still (1976). African American art history researchers from Columbia University, the University of São Paulo, Howard University and other institutions presented their work at the “African American Art History: Present Coordinates” symposium, which was organized by the History of Art and Architecture department at BU. COURTESY OF FREDERICK J BROWN TRUST.

Bewley said in an interview she spearheaded the organizing efforts with “an immense amount of help and support” from other BU faculty and offices. The funding, Bewley said, came from the Diversity and Inclusion Office and the College of Arts and Sciences through the Emerging Scholars Program.

Charlette Caldwell, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, presented her research on the architectural history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during the second day of the symposium.

“A lot of it is related to what I like to explore in my own dissertation in terms of Blackness and identity and being American that manifests itself in the built environment,” she said.

Caldwell said she enjoyed the environment at BU and the symposium.

“It’s nice being around art historians, specifically in terms of theory,” Caldwell said. “BU is great. I really like the art history department. Maybe someday I’ll be able to work here.”

Sidney Bowden, an intern coordinator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in the Learning and Community Engagement Division, said she attended the symposium with her colleagues as a “bonding” event and to learn more about African American art.

“We work with the teams at the museum with mostly Black and brown participants,” Bowden said. “We like to keep well-versed.”

Bowden, a Howard University alum, said she is a former student of Melanee C. Harvey, an associate professor of art history at Howard who was the featured speaker on Friday evening.

“I haven’t been in a classroom setting in about three years, so this is really bringing back a lot of memories,” Bowden said. “I’m excited to hear different people’s research and it’s kind of connecting it to what I have going on in my brain, trying to pull things out. It’s also lovely to see how many people are showing up for this.”

Gabriella Sproba, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she heard about the symposium as a student in the History of Art & Architecture program and through her internship with the program’s office.

Sproba said that as an undergraduate student who does not yet have a “particular area of expertise” or concentration, she was interested in exploring the topic.

“I absolutely love it,” Sproba said. “Especially with African studies being something that I as a white person might not be as familiar with, this is really an interesting way for me to attend scholarly lectures, get more information about what’s going on in the community and also in other African and African American communities outside of Boston as well.”

Bewley said she and those who helped her organize the event aimed to increase “networking, friendships and professional relationships.

“By virtue of allowing us to come together, really the conversations, the networking, the trading of phone numbers, the laughter, the research connections that were discovered between different faculty here and these advanced doctoral students,” Bewley said, “that was really what we were hoping to build.”

Bewley said the symposium concluded with a luncheon for members of the History of Art and Architecture Department and the panelists.

“Seeing everybody gathered around at a table having a family meal really warmed my heart to be honest,” Bewley said. “The food was good, the conversation was great. It was exactly what we had hoped from this programming.”



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