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The Ties That Bind


Yesomi Umolu, Logan Center Exhibitions Curator, is no stranger to uniting worlds both academic and artistic in her curatorial projects. Her current project, The Ties that Bind: Waves of Pan-Africanism in Contemporary Art and Society is a multi-year research project funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation. The project just completed its first year of activity with the public forum, Returns (Oct 13–19). In 2018, two more public forums will take place at the Logan Center, entitled Nonalignment and Horizons.

The Ties that Bind is concerned with Pan-Africanism, which Umolu defines as a “socio-political movement that emerged at the turn of the 20 th -century across different locations across the world,” born from “a desire of members of the African Diaspora to find political agency in the face of different forms of oppression, whether it be colonialism or other imperial forms of oppression, and a way of building solidarity.”

Umolu was drawn to the research topic as a way to “merge the character and DNA of the South Side with my own curatorial interests, internationally.” Her background in working internationally with African artists, especially from West Africa, made uniting the concept of Pan-Africanism and the history of Chicago's South Side an obvious choice, especially given the historical relationship between Pan-Africanism and the South Side.

Notable figures in the history of the South Side played key roles in bringing the ideals of Pan- Africanism to Chicago. Dr. Margaret Burroughs, co-founder of what

would become the DuSable Museum of African American History, traveled frequently to Africa, bringing back objects, stories, and new perspectives that then informed the local art and culture scene. Umolu also notes that the teachings and writings of activist Marcus Garvey were influential on the South Side at the turn of the 20 th -century and into the 1930s.

The Ties that Bind is organized thematically in order to explore different aspects of the project while also incorporating public thought and opinion. The narrative of Returns, the first public congress, considers the idea of returning to the place, history, and culture of Africa as a key driving force in the development of Pan-African thought and aesthetics. The second public congress, Nonalignment, will take into account resistance towards the reductive tendencies of Pan-Africanism. Finally, Horizons will explore contemporary trends and connections across the African diaspora.

One of the most notable aspects of the project is the incorporation of public thought into Umolu’s

research process. "It is important that I do not go off and research in isolation before an exhibition materializes," Umolu noted. "I am using the public forums as a platform to share the research process with others, most crucially because i am excited about the perspective that the public and the Logan's audiences can lend to the project.”

Umolu believes that by structuring the three public forums thematically, the public will be able to explore each thematic element, attend interactive discussions and events, and connect with local and international artists and thinkers. Ultimately, “there is a whole narrative” that we are connected to beyond the South Side and the University of Chicago.

To learn more about The Ties That Bind, visit tiesthatbind.uchicago.edu.

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