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AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA Bullock, Searles, and Twins Seven-Seven

WoodmereArtMuseum


For their support of this exhibition, catalogue, and programming, Woodmere extends thanks and appreciation to Victor F. Keen and Jeanne Ruddy, Material Culture, the Finkelstein Family, and an anonymous donor.


AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA Bullock, Searles, and Twins Seven-Seven

CONTENTS

Foreword 3 These “African Feelings” 6 Susanna W. Gold, PhD, Guest Curator

A Conversation with Karen Warrington 50 Works in the Exhibition 66

February 8–May 17, 2020

WoodmereArtMuseum


FOREWORD

Of the many exhibitions that Woodmere has organized in recent years, Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia offers a depth of meaning that I have not otherwise experienced. Building on a cultural moment that we only touched on in our 2016 exhibition, We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s, the current exhibition represents our exploration of the era of the civil rights movement and its legacy, and an identity-defining, Afrocentric moment in our city’s history. As described in these pages, the Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center and the Afro-American Dance Ensemble, which was founded in 1969 by dancer and choreographer Arthur Hall, was a space where Philadelphia’s African American community engaged with an understanding of cultural identity that was defined not by skin color, but by an African heritage and a diversity of authentically African forms of art. This was profound. As former lead dancer of the Afro-American Dance Ensemble housed at the Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center Karen Warrington explains in these pages, Ile-Ife proved that a deep-seated sense of African identity and cultural memory had persisted in the bodies, movements, and minds of African Americans despite the horror of the middle passage, centuries of enslavement, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and racism. For centuries, Americans of European descent had tried to expunge the idea of Africa as a

Child in the Land of the Spirits, date unknown, by Barbara Bullock (Collection of the artist)

component of American culture, but now at Ile-Ife, in Philadelphia, as during the Harlem Renaissance in New York City, the dimensions of African existence

The essay by guest curator Susanna Gold and the

were celebrated as a fortifying heritage.

transcribed conversation with Warrington describes the extraordinary social and cultural impact of

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Warrior’s Dance, 1998, by Charles Searles (Collection of Kathleen Spicer)

AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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Ile Ife, and the thrilling manner in which visual artists

that will sustain our associated lectures, dance and

Barbara Bullock, Charles Searles, and Twins Seven-

music events, fashion festival, children’s programs,

Seven contributed to its affirmative vision. The

and more. With your twin projects of the Bethany

exhibition’s exuberance in form, color, and line is an

Mission Gallery and the Performance Garage, you

expression of the beauty of that vision. Thank you,

inspire us to excellence. Thank you also for the loans

Susanna and Karen, for contributing to Woodmere’s

of many works from your collection.

overall project to “tell the stories of Philadelphia’s art and artists,” illuminating an important chapter with your research, scholarship, and shared knowledge.

Many lenders stepped forward with generous loans, including our friends Judy Heggestad and Lewis Tanner Moore, whose collection of works

That Woodmere is able to build a picture of these

by Philadelphia’s African American artists is

three artists’ work is due to the relationship we have

incomparable. We extend our thanks as well to Jim

enjoyed for many years with one them: Barbara

Alterman of Jim’s of Lambertville, who represents

Bullock. We are indebted to you, Barbara, for sharing

the Searles estate, as well as, Elaine Finkelstein,

your art so generously and for your patience with

Esther and Stephen Hrabrick, Osagie and Losenge

our curiosity about your career and your friendships

Imasogie, and the William C. Robinson Legacy

with so many individuals who figure large in the

Collection. Our institutional lenders include the

exhibition. Kathleen Spicer, widow of Charles Searles,

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the La

and George Jevremović, of Material Culture, are

Salle University Art Museum.

also long-standing friends to the Museum who have generously risen to the demands of this exhibition; you trusted our efforts and it made all the difference to our sense of purpose. The impetus behind the exhibition came from the relationship with Woodmere’s great friends, Robert and Frances Kohler, whose generosity is evident in the many credit lines on our labels for important gifts of art by Twin Seven-Seven. Your legacy in helping this museum build its collection has no parallel, and we are deeply grateful that you made it possible for us to include Twins SevenSeven in the honor roll of Woodmere’s collection in a manner that reflects his importance.

We cannot undertake any exhibition or project at the museum in the absence of financial support; we thank Material Culture, the Finkelstein Family, and an anonymous donor, in addition to those funders noted above. Woodmere is blessed with talented, dedicated, and creative staff who perform every activity with care and flair. For their contributions to Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia, I am grateful to Laura Heemer, registrar; Rachel Hruszkewycz, assistant curator; Rick Ortwein, deputy director for exhibitions; and Hildy Tow, The Robert L. McNeil Jr. Curator of Education. Thank you all.

Our equally heartfelt gratitude goes to Victor F. Keen and Jeanne Rudy, who not only helped us develop an understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of the cultural moment we are attempting to capture, but also supported the exhibition with a spectacular gift 4

WOODMERE ART MUSEUM

WILLIAM R. VALERIO, PHD

The Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and Chief Executive Officer.


The Acrobatic Dancers and the Unnoticed Crowd, 1969, by Twins Seven-Seven (Collection George Jevremović) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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THESE “AFRICAN FEELINGS” Susanna W. Gold, PhD, Guest Curator Like a number of major metropolitan areas in the

community school of the arts offering instruction in

late 1960s and early 1970s, Philadelphia saw a surge

visual art, dance, music, and drama. Though Ile-Ife

of interest among artists of African descent to

attracted participants from a range of backgrounds

adopt new strategies and artistic vocabularies in the

and heritages within Philadelphia’s diverse

development of a modern black art aesthetic. At the

population, its goals were to educate audiences in

heart of this creative activity in Philadelphia was the

traditional African culture and aesthetics, looking

Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center, begun as a free

especially at Yoruba and other West African

Fig. 1. Dancers, 1975, from the Dancer series, by Charles Searles (Private collection)

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Fig. 2. Healer, 1994, from the Healer series, by Barbara Bullock (Collection of Elaine Finkelstein) AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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Fig. 3. Barbara Bullock teaching at Ile-Ife, c. 1972. Photograph courtesy of Barbara Bullock

Fig. 5. Twins Seven-Seven at work, Osogbo, Nigeria, 1970. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African Art, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

African art and culture, joined her in developing a strong visual art program as a fellow instructor, while also engaging with Ile-Ife’s music and dance programs (Fig. 4). The breadth and range of IleIfe’s programming attracted the attention of Twins Seven-Seven (Nigerian, 1944–2011), a visual artist, actor, dancer, singer, and musician (Fig. 5). With a presence in both Philadelphia and Osogbo, a Nigerian city with a thriving creative community, Twins was a welcome and authentic conduit for contemporary African art and culture. Though the three artists worked independently Fig. 4. Charles Searles painting Celebration, a public mural commissioned for the William J. Green Jr. Federal Building, 6th and Arch Streets, Philadelphia, c. 1977. Charles Searles papers, 1953–2010. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

and each had a unique relationship to Africa and relationships to other artists, their association with the people and events at Ile-Ife united them at a critical moment when a receptive Philadelphia audience sought to expand its understanding of

cultures, and infusing African and African-inspired

the richness of African traditions. This strategic

art forms into the contemporary Philadelphia

embrace of the cultures of Africa as inspiration

experience.

for a deeply meaningful sense of identity tied to culture rather than skin color had its roots in the

Barbara Bullock (American, born 1938), already

New Negro Arts Movement of the 1920s and 1930s.

attuned to Africa as a source of inspiration for

More commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance,

her own work, was hired to lead Ile-Ife’s visual art

the movement promoted the literary, visual,

department (Fig. 3). Charles Searles (American,

performance-based, and musical contributions of

1937–2004), who shared Bullock’s affinity for

African Americans as a liberating cultural force.

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Fig. 6. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, JuneJuly 1907, by Pablo Picasso (Museum of Modern Art:. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest) © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

Whether artists adhered to Alain Locke’s seminal

decades of the twentieth century, had incorporated

1926 publication calling for a New Negro Art that

forms and motifs from tribal sculptures, masks,

reflected a knowledge of and reverence for the

and other ceremonial materials into their paintings

classic cultural production of the great civilizations

and sculptures. The concerns, however, of these

of black Africa, or whether they followed Langston

mainstream modernists—as well as those of their

Hughes’s 1929 directive to celebrate contemporary

curators, supporters, and audiences—were primarily,

black life, both approaches sought to upset the

if not entirely, formal. Their interest lay in the visual

widespread negative preconceptions held by the

properties of these objects, rather than in their

dominant culture, and seize opportunities to share

cultural significance, the contexts in which they

in modernist progress with a racially specific art.

were created and used, or the goals and intent of

Well before Locke’s call for artists of African descent to draw from the motherland for inspiration, European modernists had begun to recognize African objects as sources for their work. Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, and Constantin Brancusi, among the leading figures of avant garde “primitivism” working in the first

their makers. This disjunction was thrown into sharp relief with the Museum of Modern Art’s 1984–85 exhibition “Primitivism” in 20th-Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, in which the work of these and other European modernists was juxtaposed with examples of the African objects with which they shared visual similarities.

AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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Fig. 7. Jubilee: Ghana Harvest Festival, 1959–63, by John Biggers (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Museum purchase funded by Duke Energy) © 2020 John T. Biggers Estate / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, Estate Represented by Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Occurring at the same time that black American

the strengthening and nurturing of a collective

artists such as Bullock and Searles were invested in

identity based on a common African ancestry and

many of the same objects and visual properties, the

shared experiences. Gaither considers only the work

Primitivism show sparked an explosive, discipline-

of artists who consciously address their African

wide debate over the exhibition’s central premise.

heritage, or their experiences as African Americans,

Many claimed that the presentation cast modernist

to earn the label “black art.”3 Among a number of

creative progress as more significant than the African

approaches, he identifies “Neo-Africanism,” where

objects. Rather than exploring the cultural contexts

artists reinvented traditional African visual forms

in which the African objects were created and used,

in contemporary terms, as one significant direction

the museum instead evaluated them through the lens

chosen by black artists of this period.

of modern art, essentially heroicizing the European artists and devaluing the African work.1

Neo-Africanists did not rely on imitation, but rather, developed new aesthetics based on the sincere

This disregard for African culture was diametrically

pursuit of cultural understanding and careful research.

opposed to the goals of those black artists

This was accompanied by a broader desire among

emerging in the 1960s and 1970s. These artists

African Americans to travel to Africa for authentic,

shared the goals of self-definition and self-

firsthand experiences. As Bullock described her

empowerment with their New Negro Arts Movement

own motivations, she had always been interested in

predecessors, but responded instead to the specific

her African heritage, but had many questions that

social, political, and cultural anxieties of their own

she wanted answered. “I knew I had to go to Africa,

time. Against the backdrop of the fight for civil

and not just read about it,” she recalled, to hear the

rights and the accompanying advent of the Black

language and dialects, to see the landscape, and to

Power movement and black nationalism, the arts

experience the people and cultures.4

assumed a more assertive role in the political contest for social equality and economic opportunity.2 Scholar and curator Edmund Barry Gaither finds the necessary premise of this effort to have been

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The groundbreaking exhibition Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African-American Art (1990), organized by the Dallas Museum


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Senegal Gambia

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Guinea-Bissau

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Guinea Benin Sierra Leone

Togo

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Ghana

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Fig. 8. The Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center’s goals were to educate audiences in traditional African culture and aesthetics, looking especially at Yoruba and other West African cultures. AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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Fig. 9. Les Fétiches, 1938, by Lois Mailou Jones (Smithsonian American Art Museum: Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Norvin H. Green, Dr. R. Harlan, and Francis Musgrave)

of Art, offered a comprehensive exploration of

Fig. 10. Revolutionary (Angela Davis), 1971, by Wadsworth A. Jarrell (Brooklyn Museum: Gift of R.M. Atwater, Anna Wolfrom Dove, Alice Fiebiger, Joseph Fiebiger, Belle Campbell Harriss, and Emma L. Hyde, by exchange, Designated Purchase Fund, Mary Smith Dorward Fund, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, and Carll H. de Silver Fund)

twentieth-century artists who delved into their African ancestry.5 Among them, a handful of black artists had already begun to seek out this kind of personal experience to inform their work.

inflected in dense, rhythmic compositions and improvisational techniques.

Lois Mailou Jones tended toward abstraction to

Regardless of such individual stylistic choices,

communicate African traditions and practices, either

some black artists of this time were motivated to

researched in Europe or witnessed as they persisted

work within informal groups, organized collectives,

in Haiti, where she spent much of her decades-long

or creative institutions. In Chicago, for example,

career (Fig. 9). And in the 1950s, Houston-based

the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists

John Biggers traveled to Africa, integrating his

(AfriCOBRA) emerged in 1969 after a series of

observations of African architecture, costume, and

earlier iterations, ultimately adopting an Afro-

customs into his compositions (Fig. 10). Among the

centric aesthetic vision that Jeff Donaldson,

artists of the 1960s and 1970s, some absorbed the

one of its five founding members, describes as

brilliant hues and intense colors they observed in

“trans-African.” Rooted in the understanding of

African domestic environments. Others integrated

an “undeniable and reciprocal” connection among

abstract motifs from textiles, the shapes and

geographically diverse contemporary artists in

markings of ceremonial objects and ritualistic

the African diaspora, the trans-African aesthetic

body painting, or imagery associated with ancient

included “high-energy color, rhythmic linear effects,

spiritual mythologies. The sounds and movements

flat patterning, form-filled composition, and picture-

of the traditional masquerade and carnival were

plane compartmentalization.”6

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Fig. 11. Untitled [Boxer], 1963, by Charles Searles (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2012) Photograph by Rick Echelmeyer

AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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Fig. 12. Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center, 1980. Photograph by Bruce Williams. Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

Fig. 13. Visitors to the Ile-Ife Museum of Afro-American Culture. 1973-08-19. George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA. Arthur Hall (left), the museum’s director, shows an artifact to guests Sonny Oti (second from left), of Nigeria; Eva Kissiedu, of Ghana; and Frank Appah, of Ghana.

In New York, the Weusi Artist Collective

The expanded interests of Spiral and BECC artists

(“blackness” in Swahili), established in Harlem,

remind us that an Afrocentric approach in black

produced art that incorporated African themes

art was only one among many strategies for artists

and imagery. The collective established Nyumba

to visualize blackness. Woodmere Art Museum’s

ya Sanaa (House of Art), which began as an

2015–16 exhibition We Speak: Black Artists in

alternative exhibition gallery, but developed into a

Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s illustrated the range of

community-based program focused on education

motivations among artists of this generation, from

and art workshops as well as an active hub for Afro-

Barkley L. Hendricks’s socially descriptive portraits

centric cultural activities.⁷ Other New York–based

to Paul F. Keene Jr.’s abstractions, Allan Edmunds’s

artist groups emerging at this time, including the

photo-based collages, and Walter Edmonds’s

more activist-oriented Spiral and Black Emergency

dramatic reinterpretations of the Old Testament

Cultural Coalition (BECC), also responded to the

for the Church of the Advocate, site of Black

needs and interests of black artists, but did not

Power and Black Panther activities in Philadelphia.⁸

necessarily promote Africa as a resource. 14

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Even Bullock and Searles had been trained in and

new life into struggling urban communities, Hall

practiced classical realism in their early years. The

acquired a rowhome on Germantown Avenue near

lure of African art, history, and culture as sources

West Huntingdon Street in North Philadelphia

of inspiration was not embraced by the majority of

(Fig. 12). This would be the flagship space for Ile-

Philadelphia’s black artists, nor was this practice the

Ife, soon to expand into a cluster of adjacent and

most visible. But it was a significant direction that

nearby buildings into which Hall would breathe new

emerged at a historical moment when we find these

life as he built an Afrocentric creative community.

same impulses in cities nationwide. This exhibition

Each building housed a different arts department.

explores this particular artistic strategy as it

The Ile-Ife Museum of Afro-American Culture was

blossomed in Philadelphia, focused on the activities

established in the old Pennsylvania National Bank

of the Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center.

just a few blocks away at 7th and Dauphin Streets

The Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center was conceived and established by dancer and choreographer Arthur Hall as the headquarters for his Afro-American Dance Ensemble. With support from private organizations and the Model Cities

(Fig. 14). The museum not only displayed African art and artifacts, but also served as a performance space, a meeting place for artists to discuss their work, and an exhibition space for Philadelphia’s visual artists.

Program, a federal initiative designed to breathe

Fig. 14. Ile-Ife Museum of Afro-American Culture. George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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from North Philadelphia could appear at the classroom door without registration or enrollment, and move from department to department as they liked to watch, participate, or absorb the sights and sounds of dancers, musicians, and visual artists. For many of these young people, Ile-Ife provided their Fig. 15. Arthur Hall’s Afro-American Dance Ensemble performing in Rittenhouse Square, George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

first exposure to the arts and offered them their first opportunities to experiment with self-expression. But Ile-Ife did not cater only to children. Teens and young adults danced, practiced, played music, and

The term “ile-ife,” meaning “house of love” or “house of expansion,” references the ancient city in Nigeria believed to be the mythological site of the world’s creation and the spiritual seat of the West African Yoruba culture. It is a sacred city—the city of the gods—and the epicenter of all existence for the Yoruba people, who are connected by a common language, religion, and culture.9 By naming his organization after this significant site, Hall clarified his goals of exposing black Philadelphians to their heritage and asserting them as rightful inheritors of African traditions. He based his practice squarely on the self-conscious attempt to nourish a latent African cultural memory that had been

performed in troupes on their own stage, as well as in local schools, outdoor festivals, and venues up and down the East Coast, where tickets would regularly sell out to eager audiences (Fig. 15). Kofi Asante, a leader in Philadelphia’s African American cultural circles, recalls how he was “blown out of the water” at the power of the drum rhythms and energy of the dancers that captivated him at his first encounter with Ile-Ife’s Afro-American Dance Ensemble at a high school: “There was this drumming and these girls were dancing and their heads were spinning all around and bodies moving in ways . . . and I was just like, ‘YES!’ They had everything over James Brown! It was just fabulous.”

systematically suppressed since the first instances

So taken was Asante at this performance that he

of American enslavement. As he explained, “For

soon began frequenting Ile-Ife to learn how to drum

many, many years, there was no such thing as the

like the players he had seen. But his education there

black man in America identifying with himself or his

went well beyond music technique: “The things

heritage. It was the idea that we started here, with

that we learned was more than just drumming. We

slavery, and that was it. And you were not supposed

learned about culture, we learned about where

to go beyond that.” Hall intended Ile-Ife to correct

the drum came from, we learned about what

this problem, which had been too long perpetuated

the skin is made of, why it’s shaped the way it is,

in a restrictive American culture that devalued

the family that it belongs to, that it was a living,

African lineage and history: “We needed to have a

breathing entity that had magic to it, and spirit to

place in which we could come to find ourselves, find

it.”11 Audiences and artists alike found a welcome

our energies, find our identity.”10

affirmation in opportunities and experiences that

Rather than being highly structured, Ile-Ife’s environment was fluid, porous, and organic. Children 16

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restored connections to their ancestral past. Karen Steptoe Warrington, a founding member of the


Fig. 16. Oshun Whospers (Woshiper), 1988, by Twins Seven-Seven (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase with funds generously provided by Robert and Frances Kohler, 2019) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Afro-American Dance Ensemble, explains, “To see

As part of this broader education, Hall invited dance

this whole village of Africans who weren’t born in

groups from different parts of Africa to perform

Africa here [at Ile–Ife] . . . was satisfying something

at Ile-Ife, and shared examples of contemporary

inside all of us, because we never really just fit in

Yoruba visual art with students, staff, and artists.

that little box that [white society] put us in. So then

Through discussions, books, and artist visits, he

people started figuring out [that Ile-Ife provided]

introduced them to the art of the Osogbo School,

the affirmation of knowing who you are and being

a collective of contemporary Nigerian artists based

celebrated for who you are.” Ile-Ife did not simply

in the city of that name. Hall even invited German

provide the community with instruction in the

cultural scholar Ulli Beier (who, along with his wife,

arts, but rather, their art programs provided the

artist Georgina Beier, was intimately involved in the

community with connections to the past, which

development of the Osogbo artists) for an extended

Warrington recognized to be freeing. “We’re helping

stay at Ile-Ife to share his newly published book

young children find out who they are. Once they

Contemporary Art in Africa.14 It was in this context

know who they are, they can go out in the world

that artist Twins Seven-Seven, the star of the

and be anything.”

Osogbo school, first appeared at Ile-Ife.

12

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The artist chose the name Twins Seven-Seven as

These markings of identity were particularly

an homage to his Yoruba cultural heritage and

important for Twins because of his status as an

personal mythology (explained more fully later in

abiku child, who is special for his strong ties to the

this essay). Familiarly known as Twins, he was a

spirit world. When an abiku child is born to mortal

particularly important artist to the Beiers because

parents, the spirit world tries to reclaim him, which

only a few years after he had begun painting

results in an earthly death in childhood or shortly

with the Osogbo School in 1964, he was already

thereafter. Twins experienced this death several

becoming known among African art historians for

times himself, and the story of his birth is the

drawing from Yoruba mythology and translating

genesis of his name. According to the artist, he was

these stories, traditions, deities, and other figures in

born as a twin six different times to his mother, who

his own fresh, modern style. Folklorist and scholar

lost all twelve of these children within their first few

Henry Glassie has offered an extensive and detailed

years of life. Only when he was born a seventh

interpretation of Twins’s highly personal and

time, again as a twin, did he survive, though his

symbolic imagery as it relates to Yoruba tradition

twin sister would not. Choosing the name Twins

in his comprehensive biography of the artist. For

Seven-Seven for himself later in life, he credited

example, in Oshun Whospers (Woshiper) (1988),

his survival to his mother, who fiercely resisted the

spiritual figures are identified by their large eyes

spirits, and Osun, the female deity of water and

with scalloped or fringed lids, a motif that the artist

bringer of life, to whom Twins remained a

returned to throughout his career (Fig. 16).

devoted follower. Twins honors the souls of the

15

With the predominance of Christianity and Islam in postcolonial Nigeria, and even within the Yoruba nation itself, the ancient religion was not widely practiced. Relying on oral histories, some surviving

thirteen children lost to his parents in Spirits of My Reincarnation Brothers and Sisters (1968–69), who are represented as spirits among spirits in another world.

practices, and a family that valued and preserved

Twins attributed the creative inspiration for his

tradition, Twins was able to dig deep into this

paintings, drawings, and sculptures to Olodumare,

obscured history to recover the old rituals and

the Supreme Creator in the pantheon of orisha, or

cultural practices with his art. Rich with stories from

Yoruba deities.17 His creativity extended well

his childhood passed down by his mother, Twins’s

beyond visual production, and in addition to being

family culture was strong in tradition despite his

a visual artist, Twins had also been, at one time

mother embracing Christianity, and his father, Islam.

or another, an actor, singer, musician, and dancer.

As an infant, Twins was given tribal identification

Twins would also become a political leader in

marks, the ritual scarring, or cicatrice, of horizontal

Nigeria after learning of his paternal lineage

lines cut into each cheek, family tattoos that marked

linking him to Osuntoki, king of his home city

his Yoruba origins to a specific geographic site (Fig.

of Ibadan. He understood himself to be the

#). Twins explains the sense of cultural belonging

reincarnation of this king,18 and would eventually

that these scars provide: “We mark our children so

become formally recognized for this lineage,

that if he is lost, we can find him back.”16

meriting the title of “Prince.”

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Fig. 17. Spirits of My Reincarnation Brothers and Sisters, 1968–69, by Twins Seven-Seven (Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with funds contributed by John H. McFadden and with the gift of Material Culture, 2006-78-1) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

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Though this royal title was important to Twins, its significance and meaning were not fully understood in Philadelphia, nor were his incredible stories of his personal circumstances considered entirely unembellished. But it was the refreshing authenticity of Twins’s art that captivated the Ile-Ife community, satisfying the thirst for an understanding of and connection to Yoruba culture. When Twins arrived in the city in 1972, he was already known by reputation and through his work through Arthur Hall and Ulli Beier. He had been in the US for an exhibition of his work in New York, Fig. 18. Arthur Hall’s Afro-American Dance Ensemble performing at the Odunde Festival, still from Odunde (1995), filmed by Bruce Williams, Ile-Ife Films, Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA. https://vimeo.com/230364685

and Hall had made a point to meet the artist and see his work in person. While there, Hall invited Twins to Philadelphia to participate in the 1972 opening of Ile-Ife’s Museum of Afro-American Culture, where he had an immediate impact. He introduced Philadelphia resident Lois Fernandez to Osun and the practices of her worship. Fernandez later visited Twins in Nigeria and, deeply inspired by her experiences there, upon her return created Philadelphia’s annual Odunde Festival, an African street fair in Osun’s honor with drums and costume and dancing, on which Hall’s Afro-American Dance Ensemble collaborated. The festival has steadily grown ever since, becoming one of the largest and longest-running events of its kind (Fig. 18). Invited repeatedly to return and participate as a special

Fig. 19. Twins Seven-Seven on parade with Arthur Hall’s AfroAmerican Dance Ensemble at the Odunde African-American Festival, still from Odunde (1995), filmed by Bruce Williams, Ile-Ife Films, Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA. https://vimeo. com/230364685

dignitary, Twins quickly became so enamored with Philadelphia, and Philadelphians with him, that the city would become his second home (Fig. 19). Impressed with Ile-Ife’s initiatives to educate the community about Yoruba culture, Twins found a welcome environment in Philadelphia. For an artist who practiced a range of creative disciplines and valued the integration of different branches of the arts, Ile-Ife’s broad arts programing was a natural fit. Twins could contribute to all the departments

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Fig. 20. Winged Lion, date unknown, by Twins Seven-Seven (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2014) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photograph by Rick Echelmeyer

on his visits to the center and share his work with

and colors—which were very different from anything

the entire Ile-Ife community.For these Americans

she had seen before. Intricate, geometric patterning

who were only just learning about Yoruba history

and regularized frameworks with layers of finer and

and tradition, to learn also about contemporary art

finer detail are hallmarks of his work. In his Winged

in Africa was even more exciting. Barbara Bullock

Lion (date unknown), every aspect of the figure is

and Charles Searles, the anchors of Ile-Ife’s art

filled with brightly colored and tightly organized

department, were particularly captivated by Twins’s

ornamentation, from the large blossom-like discs

art. They, too, had traveled together to New York

applied over the blue dotted underlayer covering its

to see his early exhibition. Bullock was inspired by

legs and trunk, to the insistent repetition of feather-

the visual aspects of his work—his designs, symbols,

shaped faces on its wings.

19

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Fig. 21. Ogongo, The King of Birds, 1969, by Twins Seven-Seven (Collection of George Jevremović) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Twins also integrated the variation of shapes and

an additional layer of significance. In Goddess of

patterns in bands or grids, often onto clothing,

Wealth (1980), Twins painstakingly and meticulously

animals, or the environments they occupy, such

covered the figures’ bodies with finely drawn,

as the bellies of the birds in Ogongo, The King

elongated animals and figures woven into his

of Birds (1969) and the ground on which they

characteristic ornamentation, and a bevy of spirits

stand.

packed tightly together. Borrowed in part from

20

Likened to traditional textiles and batik,

these patterns are uniquely Yoruba in aesthetic,

the aesthetic of the cicatrice, Twins referred to this

but distinctly contemporary in Twins’s iteration.

detailed and delicate drawing over broad fields of

Still other of the artist’s patterning integrates tiny

paint as his “tattoo” technique.

figures, spirits, objects, or animals, contributing

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Fig. 22. Goddess of Wealth, 1980, by Twins Seven-Seven (Collection of Osagie and Losenge Imasogie) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Bullock was equally fascinated with Twins’s

A crowd of villagers fill the domestic landscape

traditional African subject matter as she was with

in front of a row of homes, some carrying vessels

his aesthetic. Though Yoruba mythology pervades

or instruments, while others perform acrobatics,

virtually all of Twins’s work, his subjects generally

a common entertainment at a community festival

fall into three categories: village life, animals,

or carnival. Before them dance three figures with

and the spirit world. But it is not always easy to

the heads and torsos of humans, but the tails of

distinguish one from another: spirits can be found

fish. The fish that swim in the water below and that

in village life as readily as animals can contain

cover their bodies signal the identity of Twins’s

spirits. One spirit can contain many, just as humans

beloved water goddess Osun, whom he references

can appear spirit-like. In Goddess of Wealth, “a

in much of his work. Twins interjects the spiritual

“sculpture’s painting” Twins created by cutting,

world into his commonplace village landscape in the

layering, and painting plywood sheets, humans

strangeness of the figures’ bodies and the tattoos

appear in an environment that is both earthly and

that cover them. Twins himself acknowledged that

otherworldly.

many of his figures look “weird,” explaining that this

21

is what identifies them as unearthly. Because they represented an unfamiliar world, they needed to look different, strange.22

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Fig.23.Egungun Dancers, 1986, from the Night Song series, by Barbara Bullock (Private Collection, Switzerland) Photograph courtesy of La Salle University Art Museum

Fig. 24. Shango and His Cat on a Storm Cloud, 1986, from the Initiation series, by Barbara Bullock (Private Collection, Switzerland) Photograph courtesy of La Salle University Art Museum

Twins directly illustrates, rather than alludes to, the spirit world in The Smelling Ghost (1966). Among the pantheon of orisha (Yoruba deities), their priests, priestesses, and the multitude of other spirits that appear throughout Twins’s art, there is always an important balance: male and female, presence and absence, good and evil. Opposing the positive life-giving energy that Osun typically brings to Twins’s work, the Smelling Ghost is a destructive, frightening force. He is rank, emitting a terrible odor all around him that obstructs health and life. Twins fittingly depicts the ghost as disturbing, with a twisted mouth, hollow eyes, and imbalanced projections sprouting from his oversized head. These forms are drawn from his dreams and from the memory of elaborate and scary masks he saw in ritual contexts as a child. But according to Yoruba tradition, the terrifying and evil are just as necessary as the benevolent and good. In the spirit world, opposing forces almost always coexist, balancing each other in perpetual negotiation.

Fig. 25. The Smelling Ghost, 1966, by Twins Seven-Seven (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase with funds generously provided by Robert and Frances Kohler, 2019) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Many of Bullock’s works in different series from the mid-1980s demonstrate her inspiration by Twins, particularly in the traditional Yoruba stories and cultural histories that provided the basis for his work.23 Research conducted for the 2016 exhibition Barbara Bullock: Chasing Spirits at La Salle

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University Art Museum laid the foundation for the interpretation of much of Bullock’s spiritually based work. Bullock’s Egungun Dancers (1986) depicts heavily costumed figures participating in a Yoruba masquerade, typically enacted at a carnival,


Fig. 27. Portrait of George, 2007, by Twins SevenSeven (Collection of George Jevremović) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

metes out in punishment and warning against his offenders. In other works, such as Spirit Rain (1988), a similar spiritual energy fills the compositions, but here, it emanates from the power that the spirits wield over the figure at the center. Spellbound in her ritual enactments, she is surrounded by the shapes, Fig. 26. Spirit Rain, 1988, from the Initiation series, by Barbara Bullock (African American Museum in Philadelphia) Photograph courtesy of La Salle University Art Museum

forms, and figures that emanate from her trance. As in many of Twins’s paintings of the gods and their priests and priestesses, they occupy spiritual space rather than an identifiable landscape. She

festival, or other special event. Wearing elaborate masks that verge on frightening, the egungun dance and whirl, activating the brightly colored fabric layers that compose their costumes. They

is surrounded on all sides by animals, snakes, and anthropomorphic designs. These creatures act alongside the figure, each participating with the other in a shared spiritual experience.

are representatives of departed ancestors come

This close and dependent relationship between

to ensure order and morality, bringing warning,

animals and humans appears in both Twins’s and

punishments for transgressors, or blessings and

Bullock’s art. It is rare for animals not to appear

rewards to the honorable. Bullock addresses some

in some form in Twins’s compositions, whether

of the same orisha that Twins often depicted in his

as primary actors in the narrative or tucked into

work, such as in Shango and His Cat on a Storm

intricate tattoo work. Even in Twins’s commissioned

Cloud (1986). Here, Bullock depicts Shango, a

portrait of his good friend and patron George

most powerful, mercurial, and fearsome orisha and

Jevremović, the artist was careful to include

ancient mythological king. He is enthroned in his

Jevremović’s dogs, provide him with a mask in the

realm of the sky, surrounded by the visual drama

form of a bird, and interweave snakes, fish, and

of jagged streaks in electric yellows, oranges, and

other creatures into the patterning on his arms and

black, suggestions of the lightning and thunder he

neck (Fig. 27). Most commonly, however, Twins’s

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Fig. 28. Rainbow Wealth Goddess, 1989, by Twins Seven-Seven (Collection of Victor F. Keen) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photograph by Stan Narten

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Fig. 29. Snake Head, c. early 1970s, by Barbara Bullock (Collection of the artist)

Fig. 30. Guardian Spirit Altar, c. early 1970s, by Barbara Bullock (Collection of the artist) AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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Fig. 31. Animal Healer, 1990, from the Healer series, by Barbara Bullock (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: The Harold A. and Ann R. Sorgenti Collection of Contemporary African-American Art, 2004.20.12) © Barbara Bullock

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Fig. 33. Water Spirit for Yemonja, date unknown, by Barbara Bullock (Private Collection)

Fig. 32. Beasts Birds Reptiles in Sun Worshiping Gathering, c. 1980, by Twins Seven-Seven (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Material Culture, 2019) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Fig. 34. Barbara Bullock viewing African Dan masks at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 1965. Collection of Barbara Bullock.

animals and human figures don’t simply coexist,

near the bottom. Similar to how Twins might

but rather, they share characteristics and identities.

interlock his animals and figures, the form of one

Ogongo, the King of Birds, for example, appears

creature fully integrated into another as in Beasts

with the body of a bird but with the head of a human

Birds Reptiles in Sun Worshiping Gathering (c.

(see Fig. 21). Osun has appeared in Twins’s oeuvre

1980), Bullock has built her figures and animals

variously as a woman, a fish, a mermaid-like being

out of other figures and animals. In Water Spirit

who appears half human and half sea creature, and

for Yemonja (date unknown), Bullock’s large lizard,

an unidentifiable figure with four human heads, and

whose tail resembles the head of a snake, comprises

a torso and tail built entirely from schools of fish.

layers of intertwined bodies and faces swimming

Bullock shared Twins’s understanding of the animistic aspects of Yoruba spirituality, where human and animal are closely united.24 The subject

up the river that forms the lizard’s body, which represents Yemonja, orisha of water and protector of women.

of Bullock’s collage Animal Healer (1990) alludes

Though indebted to Twins for sharing his insight

to this relationship, with the healer as a protective

into Yoruba myth and culture, even before Bullock

force, gently cradling a goat while a leopard stands

encountered his work, she had done extensive

at his feet. A lizard nestles into the healer’s neck at the top of the composition, while a snake crawls AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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Fig. 35. Stiltdancer, 1982, from the Stiltdancer series, by Barbara Bullock (African American Museum in Philadelphia)

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Fig. 36. Elephant Song, 1986, from the Night Song series, by Barbara Bullock (Collection of Babs Bingham) Photograph courtesy of La Salle University Art Museum

research on African art, often visiting the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on her own, making repeated field trips with her Ile-Ife students and attending Dance Ensemble performances there (Fig. 34). What she saw at the Museum, learned at Ile-Ife, and gleaned from her research provided her with ideas she would incorporate into her work, both then and later in her career. Snake Head (c. early 1970s) and Guardian Spirit Altar (c. early 1970s), atypical in Bullock’s oeuvre, Fig. 37. Stiltdancer and Egungun on parade at at the Odunde African-American Festival, still from Odunde (1995), filmed by Bruce Williams, Ile-Ife Films, Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA. https://vimeo.com/230364685

were objects she created after building a strong understanding African and Native American iconography and materials from her museum visits (Figs. 29 and 30). She later based Elephant Song (1986) and Stiltdancer (1982), for example, on the elaborate Africa-inspired costumes that she saw the Dance Ensemble design, create, and wear during performances.

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Fig. 38. Remembrance, 1985, by Barbara Bullock (Collection of the artist)

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Fig. 39. Still from Arthur Hall performance of Snake Dance/Teacher Dance, 1977. (Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

Other Bullock works, such as Remembrance (1985),

the museum to be a refuge where he could study

incorporate references to African dance, specifically

traditional African figures, ceremonial masks, and

Hall’s 1977 Dahomey Snake Dance, choreographed

other cultural objects. He explains the sense of

and performed by Hall himself, with accompaniment

wonder he felt viewing the figural sculpture: “It

of drums (Fig. 39). Bullock organizes the sacred

was sort of frightening because I had never seen

serpents, traditionally pythons, around the motionless

anything like this before. They were strange looking.

central figure who clasps the ritual vessel anchoring

At the same time they had this power. They almost

the composition. Around her, animated devotees

felt like they were alive. . . . I began to feel more

enact the ritual, untethered in the undefined,

myself in the sculpture because some of the figures,

spiritual space filled with gestural brushwork,

the faces just resembled me, you know. They didn’t

wearing patterned costumes evoking the snake, just

look like me, but you felt like they looked like

as does Hall in his performance.

you kind of.”25 Searles sketched the works in the

As they were for Bullock, Hall and his Dance Ensemble were a significant inspiration for Charles Searles while he was on the staff at Ile-Ife. Searles was first led to Ile-Ife by way of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where he, like Bullock, had found the collection to be an important resource. With pressures to provide for his young family and little support for his interest in art, Searles found

collection, and then worked from those sketches to carve wooden sculptures inspired by the objects. The direction of Searles’s whole life shifted after his experiences at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, when he decided not only to develop his interest in African culture at Ile-Ife within a like-minded community, but also to pursue a professional career as an artist at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).26

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Fig. 40. In Front of the Store, c. 1971, by Charles Searles (Jim’s of Lambertville)

Searles felt as if he had found his creative voice

he was the first PAFA student ever to extend his

after seeing these traditional African objects, and

Ware- and Cresson-funded travels to Africa, visiting

articulated his ideas in his work at PAFA. Searles

Morocco, Nigeria, and Ghana.

explains how his interest in Africa influenced his artistic choices in paintings like In Front of the Store (c. 1971): “My African feelings would come into play and I’d try to incorporate the mask into the figure as being the face. . . . Then I would incorporate this with a ghettoized background that I would stylize and break down into patterns.”27

In Nigeria, Searles made a particular point to visit Osogbo to see the contemporary work being produced among the Yoruba artists there, of which Twins Seven-Seven was a leading figure. Searles certainly would have known the Osogbo School and Twins’s art through his experiences at Ile-Ife, but seeing it in person was transformative. He recalled

Already incorporating his “African feelings” into

that the art he saw in Osogbo “became a major

American urban environments, Searles sharpened

influence. . . . It was the work of contemporary

his focus on Africa after he visited the continent in

African artists who were not working in the

the summer of 1972, after earning both the Lewis S.

traditional vein. . . . The guys from Osogbo were

Ware Memorial Travel Scholarship and the William

exciting. These guys just grew up in the villages

Emlen Cresson Memorial Travel Scholarship, two of

and they were doing these pen and ink drawings

PAFA’s most prestigious honors. With these funds,

on fabric that would just blow you away!”28 Bullock

Searles traveled to the great museums all over

understands Searles to have shared certain

Europe, as was expected of prize recipients, but

creative impulses with Twins, and feels he had

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Fig. 41. African Dancers, 1974, from the Nigerian Impressions series, by Charles Searles (William C. Robinson Legacy Collection)

an “unexplainable need” that was met by seeing

often accompany Ile-Ife dancers on drums. His

Twins’s work.

percussion experience was the direct motivation

29

Searles’s need was further satisfied

when he first arrived in Nigeria, where he found “an

to paint the dancers, whom he would watch and

overriding sense of belonging. . . . It felt like home.”

sketch as they rehearsed and performed (Fig. 43).

It was not simply contemporary Osogbo art that

Looking at Searles’s characteristic paintings from

captivated Searles, but Nigerian culture as a whole

about 1970 such as In Front of the Store, with rigid,

provided new sounds, sights, and experiences that

angular figures set against a patchwork of simplified

he would incorporate into his art back at home in

color blocks, one can see a dramatic shift in his

Philadelphia. Searles’s experiences in both Africa

direction following his 1972 Africa travels. His sharp,

and Philadelphia have received extensive treatment

short lines soften into long, gentle curves in the

in the dual exhibitions organized by students at

Dancer series, and his dark palette of primarily earth

Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and La Salle

tones explodes into a brilliant cacophony of varied

University, opening new avenues for interpreting his

color (Fig. 44). Absorbing the contemporary culture

work.31 The first series to reflect Searles’s African

all around him, even the way the people walked,

experiences was the Dancer series, created in direct

dressed, and decorated their homes, Searles infused

response to the activities going on around him at

his dancers with the character and flavor of Nigeria.

Ile-Ife (Fig. 42). Though he taught in Ile-Ife’s art

Of particular fascination were the patterns that he

department, Searles would migrate to the drama,

saw in almost every aspect of Nigerian life: “One of

music, and dance departments. As a percussionist

the powerful things that impacted me was . . . how

who played a range of instruments, including the

the Africans used patterning. They used pattern

cowbell, shekere, marimba, bylophone, xylophone,

against patterning . . . in Africa, these people would

bongos, cowdrum, and kunga drum, Searles would

mix the patterns together. For example, they would

30

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Fig. 43. Studies of Dancers, sketchbook #47, 1977, by Charles Searles. Photograph courtesy of La Salle University Art Museum

Fig. 42. Dancer, 1975, from the Dancer series, by Charles Searles (Private collection)

have a print pattern for a skirt and a different print

Twins’s The Acrobatic Dancers and the Unnoticed

pattern for the top. The men would wear print

Crowd (1969) (see page 5).33 It also demonstrates a

patterned pants and a different one for the top.

shared interest with Bullock in recording authentic

So I became very aware of these combinations of

experiences based on direct observation of

patterns being used together. So that became a

contemporary African life. Like Searles, Bullock had

strong influence in the paintings.”

traveled to Africa in search of a true understanding

32

Searles’s Nigerian Impressions series followed his Ile-Ife-based Dancer series, with a subject based on the bustling activity of the marketplace (Fig. 41). This series in particular has been likened specifically to Twins’s work for the shared stylistic tendencies, including Twins’s characteristic “rich and shimmering color, crowding of space, exaggerated facial features, and fluid limbs,” like one finds in

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of the cultures, visiting Senegal, Morocco, Egypt, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, South Africa, and Ethiopia over twenty years. Water Bearers (1996) is based on her interactions with some girls she met in Mali, who were transporting water from a well some distance away (Fig. 45). Fascinated by the cosmetics and nail polish that Bullock showed them, the girls radiated an enthusiasm that the artist captured in the painting’s vivid colorism and


Fig. 44. Dancers, 1975, from the Dancer series, by Charles Searles (Private collection)

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Fig. 45. Water Bearers, 1996, by Barbara Bullock (Lewis Tanner Moore Collection)

energetic patterning. Ethiopian Winged Figure (c. 1995) was a response not only to the contemporary culture she encountered in Africa, but also to the fresco paintings of angels in the churches she visited. In this piece, Bullock does not depict the angel itself, but rather, paints an interpretation of a 38

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contemporary Ethiopian woman, with wings. Despite her love of African travel, Bullock had turned down an opportunity to visit Nigeria and exhibit her work at the 1977 Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC),


Fig. 46. Ethiopian Winged Figure, c. 1995, by Barbara Bullock (Lewis Tanner Moore Collection)

an exchange among black artists from all over

determinedly sought out Fela Kuti, perhaps the best

the world. Searles, however, accepted this same

known performer in the Nigerian music scene with

invitation from the US State Department, and

whom Twins would occasionally perform. Searles

exhibited one of his paintings, an abstracted

brought his preoccupation with African music back

portrait of a king, to an international audience.

to Philadelphia, focusing on drums and rhythm in

FESTAC promoted not only visual arts, but also

two contemporaneous painting projects: a large-

theatre, literature, poetry, and, most compellingly

scale public mural and his new Soul series (Fig. 48).

for Searles, music.

34

A musician himself, Searles AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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The mural, titled Celebration (1977), was a

date . . . I incorporated all the African feelings I have

commission for the William J. Green Jr. Federal

in terms of pattern mixing.”36

Building based on an outdoor festival organized by Ile-Ife that Searles had attended several years before. Searles included the same Hall dancers that he had painted previously, but he now incorporated the drummers as a focus, organizing the entire composition around the rhythms of the drums. Searles even linked the patterns that cover practically every inch of the painting to the sound of percussion.35 Based on an Ile-Ife event and inflected with his experiences in Nigeria, Searles described this mural as “a culmination of all my experiences to

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Music and movement also infuse the Soul series, abstracted mask forms that, for Searles, represented a sacred space, much like the spirit world that had long dominated Twins’s work. Searles relies on the same elongated, curvilinear forms that fill the lithe figures in his Dancer series, maintaining these cadences in his mask forms so that they, too, appear to respond with energetic movement to the rhythmic beat of the drums.


Fig. 47. Celebration, mural commissioned for the William J. Green Jr. Federal Building, Philadelphia, 1977, by Charles Searles. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith Fig. 48. Untitled, 1977, from the Soul series, by Charles Searles (Collection of Kathleen Spicer)

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From here, Searles’s work remained indebted to

The social climate in Philadelphia in the late 1960s

African resources, the strong colors and patterning

and 1970s made this cultural revolution for African

in his 1980s “wall-floor” sculptures coming directly

Americans even more imperative. Racial tensions

out of his experiences in Nigeria, such as First Flight

steadily mounted in response to the aggressive and

(1982). Large wooden sculptures that depend on

openly racist policies of then mayor and former

the support of the wall while extending into three-

police commissioner Frank Rizzo. Accusations

dimensional space, these pieces were a logical

of his targeting black neighborhoods for police

extension of his paintings, as if the figures and

activity and systematically excluding blacks in

forms began to “walk right off the wall.”37 Later,

hiring practices preceded his more notorious

continuing to work in wood, Searles progressed to

illegal raid of the Black Panther Party offices and

wall sculptures like Reaching (1988), which he first

the 1978 police standoff and shoot-out with of

developed as abstractions of Hall’s dancers (Fig. 53).

the MOVE organization, a black liberation group

His subjects no longer legible as dancers, or even figures, Searles has pared down his ideas to the most essential in his abstractions, retaining only the movement, rhythms, and palette that had become hallmarks of his Africa-inspired work.

and commune in West Philadelphia’s Powelton Village. Disadvantaged neighborhoods were compounded by widespread drug culture, including the North Philadelphia area surrounding Ile-Ife, which functioned as a safe haven for both children and adults with few other choices. Dancer James

As Searles reflected on the work he produced

Crawford, articulating a perspective held by many

during this period, he concluded, “A lot of my work

of his colleagues, candidly explained the sense of

dealt with African feelings. It was really about my

belonging he experienced as a member of Arthur

. . . Afro-American feelings and my Afro-American

Hall’s Dance Ensemble: “If I wasn’t doing what I’m

experiences, trying to take African concepts or

doing today with Arthur, I would be in jail, or dead,

visual experiences and incorporate them into my

or have a house full of kids doing nothing. And if I

Afro-American experiences.”38 These “African

ever give this up, I believe I will go right back into

feelings” that guided Searles’s art—along similar

that.”40 Hall further explained the value of Ile-Ife’s

ideals that guided Bullock’s art and Hall’s insight

programming and philosophies: “Inside of most

in forming the Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center—

black people, there’s a great inferiority complex,

represented a significant moment in Philadelphia’s

mainly because [in a white-dominated society]

art history. Elaborating on the impact of this

we have to always look outside of ourselves for

cultural moment, Asante explained that “there was

identities, and never look inside of ourselves.

the social revolution of African Americans, there

Because whatever you find inside is not the status

was the political revolution of African Americans,

quo, or the standard. And it starts to feel very funny

and there was the cultural revolution of African

when nothing that you have that God gave you

Americans. Arthur Hall was the leader of the

is good or beautiful. This is one of the things that

cultural revolution that was here in Philadelphia.”39

black people walk around with.”41

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Fig. 49. First Flight, 1982, by Charles Searles (Jim’s of Lambertville)

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to work successfully as a professional artist and teacher, enjoying more than four decades of influential teaching posts, artist residencies and workshops, exhibitions, public art commissions, and awards for her art practice that she continues to maintain. Bullock has broadened her practice: some of her more recent work investigates world cultures beyond Africa, or socially and emotionally powerful topics such as the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the murder of Trayvon Martin. As William Valerio describes, Bullock’s abstracted depiction of the body of this innocent victim in Trayvon Martin, Most Precious Blood (2013–14) “represents all bodies that have come before, including the generations of slaves on whose backs this country was built, the men and women who were lynched and torched in the era of Jim Crow, and those individuals like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, the nine members of Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Sandra Bland, and others whose deaths came as the result of institutionalized brutality or overt racism.”42 Charles Searles, too, Fig. 50. Trayvon Martin, Most Precious Blood, 2013–14, by Barbara Bullock (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2014) Photograph by Rick Echelmeyer

was poised for a successful career after his tenure at Ile-Ife, establishing a studio in New York while also teaching at Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) and a number of other

Pressures of maintaining both his dance ensemble

art academies, and remaining prolific in his practice

and the community center in this challenging

until his death in 2004.

climate began to weigh on Hall by the late 1980s. Hall departed the desperation of the city, ultimately relocating his Yoruba-inspired dance practice to Maine. The legacy of Ile-Ife, however, did not disappear along with Hall. As a muchneeded welcoming community within the harsh environment of the city, Ile-Ife had provided a space for artists to thrive. After her foundational experiences there, Barbara Bullock continued

Twins Seven-Seven, however, would feel the effect of Philadelphia’s punishing social conditions more sharply. After his early successes, Twins’s career was abruptly diminished when difficult financial circumstances left him unable to maintain the production and sale of his art and meet his expenses. It was when he was close to eviction that Twins first met George Jevremović, owner of Material Culture imports retailer, who offered him a place to stay and work as the organization’s first

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a central feature of the retail emporium, and rebuilding his art career with his own new paintings. Inciting Twins to reclaim the successes of his early years, Jevremović challenged him to create something equally spectacular as his celebrated Spirits of My Reincarnation Brothers and Sisters (1968–69) (Fig. 46) after it was purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Meeting, if not exceeding, Jevremović’s expectations, Twins created an adapted version of the original 1968–69 painting in 2006, reconfiguring his departed siblings as musicians representing the spirits of people he knew during his lifetime, and including a selfportrait in the center. That same year, Twins would acknowledge his own precarious position in life in Barefoot President in a Fragile Boat with the World Tears Apart (2006–7). Depicting President George W. Bush trying to balance a fragmented globe on his shoulders while perilously balancing on an unsteady boat, Twins recognizes that even the most powerful among us are vulnerable, all of us striving for stability in an unstable world.43 By the early 2000s, Twins was well on the way to rebuilding his career in the art world, when his life was tragically cut short by his unexpected death while visiting Nigeria in 2011. Together, Bullock, Searles, Twins, and Hall touch Fig. 51. Barefoot President in a Fragile Boat with the World Tears Apart, 2006–7, by Twins Seven-Seven (Material Culture) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

the lives of countless Philadelphians through their interactions with the Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center. By articulating and celebrating the accomplishments of these artists at Ile-Ife, Africa

artist-in-residence. Provided with a studio, supplies,

in the Arts of Philadelphia honors their service

and time to create, Twins worked on projects

to a community committed to defining its own

ranging from decorating paper shopping bags (see

identity, and their crucial roles in achieving a cultural

page 66) for its favored customers, to collaging

revolution for African Americans in the city.

a monumental dinosaur model that has become

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Fig. 52. The Spirits of My Reincarnation Brothers and Sisters, 2006–7, by Twins Seven-Seven (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase with funds provided by Robert and Frances Kohler, 2018) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photograph by Rick Echelmeyer

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NOTES 1 See “Primitivism” in 20th-Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, ed. William Rubin (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984) and the series of responses to the exhibition initiated by its most vocal detractor, Thomas McEvilley, Professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York, with his exhibition review, “Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief: ‘Primitivism’ in 20th-Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art in 1984,” Artforum 23:3 (November 1985), 54–61. 2 See Richard J. Powell, Black Art: A Cultural History, revised and expanded edition (London, Thames & Hudson, 2002), esp. Chs. 2-5, and Sharon F. Patten, African American Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), esp. Ch. 3, for an introduction to this historical material. 3 Edmond B. Gaither, introduction, Afro-American artists: New York and Boston (Boston: The Museum of the National Center of AfroAmerican Artists, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1970), unpaginated. 4 Barbara Bullock interview with Susanna Gold, June 5, 2019.

Art Museum, 2016), ed. Klare Scarborough. 24 Bullock, 2019. 25 Charles Searles interviewed by Cynthia Veloric for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, June 13, 1991, 25. 26 Kathleen Spicer interview with Susanna Gold, June 18, 2019. 27 Searles, 43. 28 Searles, 57. 29 Bullock, 2019. 30 Searles, 58. 31 See Charles Searles: A Catalogue for Two Exhibitions: Charles Searles: The Mask of Abstraction (La Salle University Art Museum) and Charles Searles: In Motion (Tyler School of Art, Temple University), (Philadelphia, La Salle University Art Museum, 2013), ed. Klare Scarborough and Susanna Gold.

5 See the two-volume exhibition catalogue Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African-American Art (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1989), ed. Robert Rozelle with significant contributions by Alvia J. Wardlaw, Maureen A. McKenna, David C. Driskell, Edmund Barry Gaither, Regina A. Perry, William Ferris, Ute Stabich, and Robert Farris Thompson.

32 Searles, 61.

6 Jeff R. Donaldson, “AfriCOBRA and TransAtlantic Connections,” Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, 30:1 (2012), 84–89.

35 Searles, 90.

7 Patton, 214–16.

33 Jontyle Theresa Robinson, review of “Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African American Art,” African Arts 24:1 (January 1991), 79. 34 Powell, 157

36 Searles, 19. 37 Spicer, 2019.

8 We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s-1970s (Philadelphia: Woodmere Art Museum, 2015-16), guest-curated by Susanna W. Gold, PhD.

39 Kofi Asante, Renaissance on Sacred Ground.

9 The Yoruba thrive in Nigeria, and there are significant Yoruba populations in Benin, Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone. With the African Diaspora, Yoruba culture has spread to many parts of the West, particularly the UK and the Americas.

40 James Crawford, recorded in Ray C. Hartung, “Ile Ife: House of Love,” 1973. Preservation remaster by Bruce B. Williams, May 2011. Arthur Hall Collection Digital Archive, Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections, Temple University. https://vimeo.com/67184484)

10 Arthur Hall, recorded in Renaissance on Sacred Ground, Ile-Ife Films, Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections, Temple University. https:// vimeo.com/205808787 11 Kofi Asante interview with Ile-Ife films, Philadelphia, November 30, 2012, Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections, Temple University. https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aBN3DteM-Q 12 Karen Steptoe Warrington interview with William Valerio, Susanna Gold, and Rachel Hruszkewycz, Woodmere Art Museum, November 7, 2019. 13 Warrington, 2019. 14 Ulli Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa (New York: Praeger, 1968). 15 Henry Glassie, Prince Twins Seven-Seven: His Art, His Life in Nigeria, His Exile in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010). 16 Twins Seven-Seven, quoted in Glassie, Prince Twins Seven-Seven: His Art, His Life in Nigeria, His Exile in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), 43. 17 Glassie, 15. 18 Glassie, 49. 19 Bullock, 2019. 20 For elaborated descriptions of Twins Seven-Seven’s aesthetic, see Glassie, throughout. 21 Glassie, 282. 22 Glassie, 130. 23 Barbara Bullock: Chasing After Spirits (Philadelphia: La Salle University

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38 Searles, 87.

41 Hall, recorded in Renaissance on Sacred Ground. 42 William R. Valerio, “Trayvon Martin, Most Precious Blood,” in Barbara Bullock: Chasing After Spirits, ed. Klare Scarborough (Philadelphia: La Salle University Art Museum, 2016), 71. 43 Glassie, 52.


Fig. 53. Reaching, 1988, by Charles Searles (William C. Robinson Legacy Collection) AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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A CONVERSATION WITH KAREN WARRINGTON

On November 7, 2019, Woodmere Director William Valerio, Woodmere Assistant Curator Rachel Hruszkewycz, and guest curator Susanna W. Gold sat down with Karen Warrington to discuss her work with Arthur Hall’s Afro-American Dance Ensemble and the Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center.

As the lead dancer and a choreographer with Hall’s

Cable, WKBS-TV, and WHYY-TV, and produced and

dance ensemble, Warrington performed and taught

directed two films for the Scribe Video Center’s

throughout the US, West Africa, and the Caribbean.

Precious Places series, Yorktown: You Are Here and

A cum laude graduate of Temple University, where

711. Warrington also founded a Rites of Passage

she majored in radio/television and film, she worked

program for teenage girls at Temple University and

as director of communications in the office of

the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent

Congressman Robert A. Brady and, in that capacity,

Social Change.

served on the Mayor’s Oversight Committee for the President’s House at Independence National Historical Park. She also served as director of communications at Lincoln University and as press secretary to Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode.

Warrington lectures and writes about the challenges facing the African American family and the need for African Americans to embrace and educate themselves about African traditions and culture. Her enduring interest in African culture has taken

Prior to joining city government, Warrington was an

her to Senegal, Ghana, Morocco, and the University

award-winning news director at WDAS Radio, where

of Ibadan in Nigeria. She also has traveled to Cuba,

she was the first African American woman to head

China, and the Caribbean. Her photography was

a news operation in Philadelphia. She hosted and

recently exhibited at the Scribe Video Center.

produced weekly television programs on Comcast

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Dance instruction at Ile-Ife, Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

KAREN WARRINGTON: At Ile-Ife, we took kids who

me. I’m one of the little kids from the back street.”

hadn’t been exposed to the arts and gave them

He told me he’d learned a lot about discipline and

tools, time, support, and appreciation. Most of the

respect from watching us teach class.

teachers and administrators lived in the community and therefore we were not outsiders who they only saw during the hours the center was in operation. And, the doors of the center were always open to them. The building had a back door and the children who lived in the back street would come in that door and watch the dance classes. They were interesting because they never walked around the corner to come in the front door. They never signed up for any of the classes, but they would watch intently and they never were a problem. I think they were seeing and studying firsthand the discipline of the art instruction. I ran into a young man who had just received his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania, and he said, “You don’t remember

Many of the children in the neighborhood would come in and do their homework, and many of them had some pretty rough life experiences. But, in spite of their hard times, I think they were made more secure because at the center they discovered that they had different talents. Some were budding artists, some were dancers, some were drummers, and musicians. Most importantly, they were respected by us and that helped them develop pride and confidence. I think education without respect for the student thwarts the whole process of education. All the instructors in the program adopted that attitude, because they were taking on the culture of the space.

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Relaxed Traders, 1974, by Charles Searles (Collection of Esther and Stephen Hrabrick) Photograph by Rick Echelmeyer

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introduced to anything about Africa through our so-called education system, but once exposed, it immediately resonated. Because of Arthur Hall’s respect and admiration for African cultural heritage, the young and the not-so-young started to appreciate who they were. They now had a story, they had a history, and they had something to be proud of. Most black people will tell you when you hear stories of slavery and hear people referred to as slaves, as being owned, you cringe. We are portrayed as useful only for the work we did for the people who treated us like animals and who claimed to “own” us. We cringe because the images take away our value and our history. The American narrative has been that our story begins in 1619 and Arthur Hall, August 1977, Belgrade Lakes, Maine. Photograph by Bruce Williams. Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

until then we had no value, no culture, no belief system, and no heritage. When Arthur started the Afro-American Dance Ensemble in the mid-1960s, he was so far beyond the thinking not only of

The situation at the center was kind of chaotic—it wasn’t like, oh, everybody’s going to be here at four and everybody’s going to leave at a set time. In one building you had the fine artists. Next door you had the dancers and drummers. So at any point a

whites, but of blacks too. For the most part, blacks hadn’t been taught that they had something to be proud of. We had been told that everything about our country, our origin, was horrible. You have no religion, you have no culture, you are not civilized!

child in an art class might say, “I want to go into the

When Arthur and dancer and anthropologist

dance class.” Or the dancers might have decided

Katherine Dunham introduced our bodies to new

to take a silk-screening class. But no matter where

ways of moving, we began to understand that we

you were in the building, you were being exposed

no longer had to move in ways that did not fit our

to the sounds, energy, and rhythms of the space,

bodies. Until that time we were taking our African

and the experience was reflected in the art that was

bodies and trying to mold them to fit European

being produced. If you look at some of the early

choreography. I had a friend that I danced with who

work by Charles Searles and compare it to his Ile-Ife

was with the New York City Ballet. He said when

experience, you can see how it changed. For just

he first went there they said, “Oh, we’re going to

about every artist that came through Ile-Ife, their art

get rid of that butt.” And within three years his butt

began to reflect what they were seeing there.

was gone. The European body is primarily a flat

All of us were affected by this strong African cultural experience. Most of us hadn’t been

butt, wide hips, and a turnout that is important for ballet. But that’s not our natural body. So, when we were introduced to black dance, rather than being

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Three Spirit Forms, 1979, by Charles Searles (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2017) Photograph by Rick Echelmeyer

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turned out in first and fifth position, we could bend our knees, we could bend our backs, and we could move our pelvises. For some who went to Ile-Ife, in addition to studying a variety of the arts, it was about freeing not only the black body, but also the black mind and point of view. We said, “Okay, I accept I’m not going to fit into this European mold, but now I know there is an authentic mold for me to fit into as a black person.” And, this mold is represented in color, texture, movement, and rhythm, no matter the art form. While artists like Barbara Bullock and Charles Searles show dancers in their work, I think they’re really saying they finally had the freedom to break the European art mold they’d been pushed into, whether it’s their palette or brushstroke. And it’s not just about movement—it’s about attitude, it’s about how you speak, it’s what you reference, it’s what you think is beautiful, and it’s what you think is negative. So much of our experience in America is confined and restricted, because we know we’re not going to be understood, or we’re not going to be seen “as good as,” so we consciously and unconsciously censure ourselves to fit in. In black dance schools, in black communities all across the country, there was always a drummer and somebody doing something with some hips. If you look at black social dancing going back to the early 1900s, you see that our dance movements Woman with Fish, 1995, by Barbara Bullock (Lewis Tanner Moore Collection)

did not get lost on the ships that brought us here in bondage. Also the rhythms that we played in our villages, even though they were banned in America, never stopped playing in our heads. At some point those movements became institutionalized in black dance schools. Sydney

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King, a pioneer black dance teacher, told me they used to call black ethnic dance, “primitive dance.” Then she started calling it “interpretive dance.” When I asked her why, she said, “Because I couldn’t say I was doing what Katherine Dunham did. I was interpreting.” So we had this whole genre of interpretive dance, loosely based on what we were learning about African and Caribbean dance. And slowly Africans who were arriving in Philadelphia would come to Ile-Ife and teach traditional African dances. We had a welcoming dance from Ghana, we had dances from Nigeria, and we had dances from the Ivory Coast. And during this period of the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of West African dance groups performed in Philadelphia, and we made sure we were there to watch and learn. We had to take pieces from many different sources, because there was no body of information about these African dances. Also we started wearing and making African-inspired clothing. We’d find somebody that sold African print material, and then we’d buy some mud cloth from someone else. We had to take the remnants of Africa and reform them, as a way to help figure out who we were. And more and more Africans who came to Philadelphia

Celebration, Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

started saying, “Wow, this is something we didn’t expect in America. ”

that eventually could cause me hip problems. But, I

My husband is from the island of Dominica in the

could be me and appreciate ballet—I love ballet, but

Caribbean. When he came here, he was working at

at the same time, African dance is my ballet!

the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, located not too far from Woodmere, and he kept asking, “Where are the black people?” When he finally made his way to Ile-Ife, he was shocked to see this whole village of Africans who weren’t born in Africa.

WILLIAM VALERIO: Karen, one of the things that’s

so interesting about what you’ve described is having to take a piece from here and a piece from there and travel across the diaspora where it’s been dispersed. Barbara Bullock noted that Twins Seven-

For me the experience of black dance was freeing.

Seven had this vocabulary of visual form that came

I didn’t have to go to ballet classes and put on toe

from Osogbo, and it was unlike anything that she

shoes that hurt and try to turn my legs out in a way

or Charles Searles had experienced in their classical

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Dance Instructors at Ile-Ife, including Karen Steptoe Warrington (top left), Evangeline "Vangie" Brown (top right), Carol Butcher, and Arthur Hall. Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

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The Mother and Tattooed Body…, 1980, by Twins Seven-Seven (Collection of Victor F. Keen) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photograph by Stan Narten

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training. It’s not that they weren’t thinking about Africa already—they were. But suddenly there was an artist in their midst who had a different attitude, one who was questioning what a work of art is. There’s something profound about how that must have given them a new window into something deep inside. It’s akin to what you’re saying—the drum rhythm is always there. And so maybe that sense of line is always there. Or those patterns. I think of Twins; he does many things with patterns that relates to different kinds of African textiles. WARRINGTON: An artist can only observe, for the

most part, or use what he sees as a baseline. When I was in Nigeria I saw women wearing textured cloth wrappers to help them carry their children on their backs. When it was time for the child to nurse they would swing the child around, and then when they were done they would reposition the baby on their back. I saw one woman get off the bus with a toddler who was old enough to walk. The woman just bent over and the child jumped on her back and she positioned the child in the wrapper. I’ve always thought of that movement, of the bending over and the movement of the body all while continuing on her journey. I’m not going to see that in Philadelphia. So, when Twins comes to Philadelphia, what he’s showing us is what he sees in his culture. He’s seen all these colors and these woven fabrics. He’s seen bodies moving in ways that correspond to the rhythms of his culture and he has seen the unseen. Most importantly he gives us new eyes. VALERIO: “Gives us new eyes!” That’s a profound

statement because it prompts the question: how do you find inspiration and creativity if everything that’s there—the models and paradigms of culture— haven’t been of your “eyes,” or, for that matter, of your body? To give “new eyes” is to open new doors of self-expression. AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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Dancer #5, 1975, by Charles Searles (La Salle University Art Museum: Gift of Matilda Petty) Artwork © Searles Spicer Estate. Photograph courtesy of La Salle University Art Museum

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SUSANNA GOLD: Charles Searles was a musician

these stories that you don’t know where or how

as well as a painter. Do you know if he was doing

they fit. But slowly the heritage and cultural legacy

that kind of work at Ile-Ife? Was he playing drums

start to be revealed and so many things that were

officially or just casually?

hidden are revealed.

WARRINGTON: I do think a couple of times I saw

For me, one example is black hair: if it’s exposed

Charles playing drums, but it wasn’t official. And,

to water, it will shrink, and you can’t comb it. But if

like Barbara, he might have even taken a dance

you braid it, it’s manageable. At Ile-Ife we all started

class. There were no barriers between departments.

braiding and cornrowing our hair, because when

When the Model Cities Program was in place,

you dance it gets hot and the moisture tangles the

Deputy Mayor Goldie Watson was able to convince

hair. There was a group of talented young women

[then Philadelphia mayor] Frank Rizzo to make

in North Philadelphia who were experts at braiding

Ile-Ife the delegate agency for its Cultural Arts

and cornrowing. And none of these young women

Program. We were able to get funding and because

knew anything about Africa and African design. So

of that we started to have all these departments.

it was interesting that when I was at the University

Until then, it was just dance and drumming. But

of Ibadan, in Nigeria, some of the braiders there

then we had drama, we had jazz, we had sculpture,

were questioning where I had my hair braided. They

we had painting, and we had different kinds of

were telling me that the design of my braids must

dance—tap, ballet, African—all free.

have been done by a Nigerian because the design

At the same time there were more and more Africans visiting Philadelphia and we began to see ourselves in them. I remember I was at an event and these women from Ivory Coast were there, and they were speaking in French. One woman said something to somebody else, and she made a particular gesture. I said, “That’s exactly what

was a traditional Yoruba design. When I explained that the braider was not Nigerian but a young girl in North Philly, in the US, they were shocked. The lesson learned: when the young African American braider begins the art of braiding she connects with a cultural memory buried deep in her consciousness that guides her design.

we do.” It’s as if you were adopted and you don’t

So it seems as though we hadn’t lost as much as

know who your mother is, then suddenly you see

we thought. It had to be reawakened. It wasn’t

a woman with mannerisms like yours or who walks

really that difficult to reconnect with the culture,

like you. So when you have millions of people that

because it’s always been there. We couldn’t name

have that disconnection, and then that little door

it, we couldn’t talk about it, but we sort of knew it

of recognition opens, you start rushing toward

when we saw it. And I know Arthur was ahead of

the opening looking for more information. After a

the curve.

while it isn’t just about art—it’s about finding who you are, knowing where you fit, knowing why your grandmother said this or your grandmother did

VALERIO: And I would say that about these artists.

They were also ahead of the curve.

that, or what the lineage was of the grandfather

WARRINGTON: Well, they were receptive. They

who lost his sight because of slavery. There are

had something in them, and when they heard the

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dog whistle their consciousness was reawakened because it was there all the time. We’re a continuum. It’s a part of Africa and the culture that remains in us. I think it’s been packed down in us, but left in a conducive setting, it will surface. Thinking about that continuum—what you also saw at Ile-Ife was an appreciation for the elderly. Older people had a space of respect at the center. One of our performers was Elizabeth Roberts, a senior woman who had been a domestic for years and lived in an attic, but she loved art and had studied opera and dance. She eventually became our costume designer, after she traveled to Brazil to study the styles and techniques to help us with our costumes for the production of Black Orpheus. And, she was also the mama of the group. She was always given that reverence. When Arthur choreographed, he made a space for an older man and woman. The Afro-American Dance Ensemble was not just a company of ninety-pound trained dancers, because many were different size dancers wanting to be trained. In the African tradition, Arthur made spaces for those who wanted to be a part of his cultural vision.

From the performance, “Obatala,” c. 1970. Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

GOLD: I’m glad you brought up the costuming,

because in some of the videos I’ve seen, the

point. I think maybe he would do the sketches. But

dancers were fully covered. I was wondering if there

Mama Liz was in charge of all of our costumes. I’m

was a costume department or if there were people

not sure she made all of them, but I know she made

within the dance community?

all of the intricate and elaborate headdresses. This

WARRINGTON: Oh, don’t you wish it was a

department. Initially we were dancers who knew each other. And then we became more formalized under Arthur. So we used to meet at Arthur’s

was a woman who probably only went to eighth or ninth grade. But she would do extensive research by collecting art books from all over and she regularly visited the library for additional information.

house, and he’d say, “We got a gig. Okay, what are

People would come to the group and see a need

we going to wear?” Literally, we took his mother’s

and step in, whether it was lighting, whether it was

drapes, and we made costumes. Arthur did hire

staging, whether it was dance. Most of the people in

people to help Mama Liz make costumes at some

the ensemble were trained dancers, but there were

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Arthur Hall’s Dance Ensemble performs “Obatala” during the Treasures of Ancient Nigeria exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photograph by Bruce Williams, 1982. Arthur Hall Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

people in the group who were in training. So the

was open.” He just left. He was frustrated. You have

dance ensemble was a place where one could find

to understand that artists are sensitive people.

their place as an artist. Some people in the group

Arthur was a proud gay man, but he also was an

were the guys that drove our vans. Sometimes they

impatient and complex artist. On one hand, he was

would dance or drum and they all were committed

a visionary, but on the other hand, he was a man

to the discipline required.

who had experienced the things that happen to

VALERIO: I know that Arthur ultimately left Ile-Ife.

Can you tell us a little about that?

those who don’t fit the mold. Also, there were a lot of drugs in the community. Combine that with the number of people who were dying of AIDS and a

WARRINGTON: One of the problems is that Arthur

more somber picture emerges. The hope for the

became disillusioned as he got older. So he left

Black Arts Movement was becoming less bright as

Philadelphia in 1988 and went to New England. I

the reality of trying to maintain the business of art

was no longer at Ile-Ife; I was in college. He just left

was a becoming a sobering reality. And I think all of

and one day somebody showed up at my house,

that just meshed into, “I am not getting the respect

and they put pictures on my porch, and said, “We

I should have.” I don’t believe that was true, but for

found these out in the street, because the building

Arthur that was his point of view.

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Yam Festival, date unknown, by Twins Seven-Seven (Collection of Victor F. Keen) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photograph by Stan Narten

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VALERIO: And you had all the students and

WARRINGTON: Yes, it was a vehicle for reaching

the families.

some of these young people who were suffering

WARRINGTON: So, for Arthur to say that he wasn’t

getting support, that’s not true. He had kind of reached a barrier in terms of what he wanted to do. His last big production was really too big for one person to do. It was frustrating, because I don’t think he could get the performers he really needed. Arthur was a brilliant and visionary seer, but he was human. I want to believe that before he died he was aware of how his artistic and cultural contribution changed the lives of thousands of people, artists and non-artists, including myself, throughout the African diaspora and beyond.

because of poverty, because of crime, because of drugs. We forget how healing art can be, especially when it’s connected to the cultural identity. I think what we found for these children who were often written off by the school system was that art helped them find themselves and therefore they could better apply themselves to their academics. We weren’t trying to make artists—we wanted to find what they enjoyed and felt good about. We were helping children find out who they were. Once they knew that, they could go out in the world and be somebody special. I think the dancers knew that almost instinctively because they were more

VALERIO: And it sounds like you also embraced

physically connected to the students’ bodies,

people for where they were in life. I never went to

whereas fine artists are much more solitary. But I

dance school, but I took piano lessons. You were

think the fine artists at Ile-Ife started to experience

penalized if you didn’t practice, if you missed

a different world regarding how they interacted

a week—it was really structured. What you’re

with the community and how art can impact

describing is you’re in the art section, you move into

communities. I think that’s what you see resonating

the dance section, you go back to the art section.

in some areas of the art world today.

I’m sure there were kids who didn’t show up for a while and then they’d show up again, and then they’re a part of it.

What Arthur was doing was setting up an approach, not to just art, but to reaching African Americans and especially children who society has kind of

WARRINGTON: A lot of the kids weren’t there for

pushed to the side. I think, no, I know he helped us

the art instruction, they were just there because

find our authentic cultural creative voice.

somebody liked them and somebody welcomed them. And along the way, they discovered that they could draw, dance, or play drums. Some of what we

VALERIO: Karen, this has been completely riveting.

Thank you.

did was to help children understand that they were special. The art and the dance were a part of it, but that wasn’t all of it. VALERIO: It was a vehicle.

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WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION

BARBARA BULLOCK

American, born 1938 Guardian Spirit Altar, c. early 1970s Mixed media, 30 x 30 x 20 in. Collection of the artist

Snake Head, c. early 1970s Mixed media, 30 x 30 x 20 in. Collection of the artist

Stiltdancer, 1982 Acrylic on canvas, 96 x 84 in. From the Stiltdancer series African American Museum in Philadelphia

Remembrance, 1985 Acrylic on canvas, 74 x 40 in. Collection of the artist

Costume Dancer and Two Bell Ringers, 1989 Gouache on paper, 22 1/2 x 29 3/4 in. Private Collection

The River Spirit and the Mermaid, 1989 Gouache on paper, 22 1/2 x 29 1/2 in. Private Collection

Animal Healer, 1990 Gouache on shaped paper, 67 x 40 in. From the Healer series Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: The Harold A. and Ann R. Sorgenti Collection of Contemporary AfricanAmerican Art © Barbara Bullock

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Shopping Bag, 2004, by Twins Seven-Seven (Material Culture) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.


Costume Dancer and Two Bell Ringers, 1989, by Barbara Bullock (Private Collection)

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Smiling Beast in Spider Bush, 1984, by Twins Seven-Seven (Collection of Barbara Bullock) Š 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Healer, 1994 Gouache paint and matte medium on watercolor paper, 63 1/2 x 28 in. From the Healer series

Ethiopian Winged Figure, c. 1995 Painted paper collage on heavy watercolor paper, 47 x 35 1/4 in.

Collection of Elaine Finkelstein

Water Bearers, 1996 Watercolor on paper, 31 1/4 x 22 3/4 in.

Woman with Fish, 1995 Painted paper collage on heavy watercolor paper, 59 x 28 in. Lewis Tanner Moore Collection

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Lewis Tanner Moore Collection

Child in the Land of the Spirits, date unknown Gouache collage on heavy watercolor paper, 33 1/2 x 15 1/2 in. Collection of the artist

Lewis Tanner Moore Collection

Water Spirit for Yemonja, date unknown Gouache collage on heavy watercolor paper, 28 x 49 in. Private Collection


CHARLES SEARLES

American, 1937–2004 African Dancers, 1974 Acrylic on canvas, 35 x 40 in. From the Nigerian Impressions series William C. Robinson Legacy Collection

Relaxed Traders, 1974 Oil on canvas, 66 x 66 in. Collection of Esther and Stephen Hrabrick

Dancer #5, 1975 Ink and ink wash on paper, 24 x 18 in. La Salle University Art Museum: Gift of Matilda Petty Artwork © Searles Spicer Estate

Dancers, 1975 Acrylic on canvas, 68 1/2 x 70 in. From the Dancer series Private collection

Dancers, 1975 Acrylic on canvas, 69 x 68 3/4 in. From the Dancer series Private collection

Untitled, 1977 Acrylic on paper, 30 x 40 in. From the Soul series Collection of Kathleen Spicer

Untitled, 1977 Acrylic on paper, 40 x 30 in. From the Soul series Collection of Kathleen Spicer

Three Spirit Forms, 1979 Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2017

Twin Figure (Ere Ibeji), 20th century, by an unknown Yoruba artist (La Salle University Art Museum: Gift of Kathleen Spicer Searles, purchased by Charles Searles in Africa) Photograph courtesy of La Salle University Art Museum

Banner, 1970s Fabric, 41 1/2 x 52 in. Collection of Kathleen Spicer

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The River Spirit and the Mermaid, 1989, by Barbara Bullock (Private Collection)

First Flight, 1982 Acrylic and Masonite on wood, 89 x 47 x 46 in. Jim’s of Lambertville

Reaching, 1988 Acrylic on wood, 72 x 34 x 6 in. William C. Robinson Legacy Collection

Warrior’s Dance, 1998 Acrylic on wood, 39 x 35 x 6 in. Collection of Kathleen Spicer

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UNKNOWN YORUBA ARTIST

Twin Figure (Ere Ibeji), 20th century Wood, pigment, beads, organic material, 10 3/4 x 3 1/4 x 2 3/4 in. La Salle University Art Museum: Gift of Kathleen Spicer Searles, purchased by Charles Searles in Africa

TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

Nigerian (active Philadelphia), 1944–2011 The Smelling Ghost, 1966 Ink, watercolor, and oil on brown paper, 39 1/2 x 31 1/2 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase with funds generously provided by Robert and Frances Kohler, 2019


Untitled, 1977, from the Soul series, by Charles Searles (Collection of Kathleen Spicer) AFRICA IN THE ARTS OF PHILADELPHIA: BULLOCK, SEARLES, AND TWINS SEVEN-SEVEN

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Untitled, 2009, by Twins Seven-Seven (Collection of Victor F. Keen) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photograph by Stan Narten

The Acrobatic Dancers and the Unnoticed Crowd, 1969 Ink, watercolor, and oil on wood, 48 1/4 x 24 1/2 in.

Beasts Birds Reptiles in Sun Worshiping Gathering, c. 1980 Watercolor and magic marker mixed media, 23 3/4 x 17 7/8 in.

Collection George Jevremović

Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Material Culture, 2019

Ogongo, The King of Birds, 1969 Ink, pastel, and oil on wood, 48 x 24 in. Collection George Jevremović

Goddess of Wealth, 1980 Oil and coins on wood, 48 x 96 in. Collection of Osagie and Losenge Imasogie

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The Mother and Tattooed Body…, 1980 Ink, watercolor, and oil on carved wood, 48 x 96 in. Collection of Victor F. Keen

Smiling Beast in Spider Bush, 1984 Etching, 12 x 17 1/2 in. Collection of Barbara Bullock

Oshun Whospers (Woshiper), 1988 Ink, watercolor, acrylic, and oil on cloth, 89 x 89 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase with funds provided by Robert and Frances Kohler, 2019


Banner, 1970s, by Charles Searles (Collection of Kathleen Spicer Searles)

Shopping Bag, 2004 Paint and magic marker on brown paper bag, 17 x 17 in.

Dinosaur, 2007 Paint on Fiberglass, 84 x 84 x 24 in.

Material Culture

Material Culture

The Egg Eater Family, date unknown Ink, watercolor, acrylic, and oil on cloth, 40 x 50 in. Collection of Victor F. Keen

Barefoot President in a Fragile Boat with the World Tears Apart, 2006–7 Print with paint, 37 x 20 in.

Portrait of George, 2007 Ink, paint, charcoal and crayon on canvas, 43 1/2 x 23 3/4 in. Collection of George Jevremović

Material Culture

The Spirits of My Reincarnation Brothers and Sisters, 2006–7 Ink, batik, dye, watercolor, acrylic, and oil on cloth, 58 in. x 60 in.

Untitled, 2009 Ink, watercolor, and acrylic on paper, 14 x 17 in. Collection of Victor F. Keen

Winged Lion, date unknown Ink on paper, 13 1/2 x 21 1/2 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2014

Yam Festival, date unknown Mixed media on paper, 12 1/2 x 17 in. Collection of Victor F. Keen

Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase with funds provided by Robert and Frances Kohler, 2018

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WORKS PRODUCED AT ILE-IFE These works were made in the Ile-Ife classrooms by Barbara Bullock, Charles Searles, other instructors, and students. All are from Bullock’s collection.

BARBARA BULLOCK

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CLARENCE MORGAN

Faculty Member


CHARLES SEARLES, 1971

Dedicated to Barbara Bullock

CHARLES SEARLES

STUDENT WORK

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STUDENT WORK

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STUDENT WORK


Woodmere Art Museum receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

Support provided in part by The Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

© 2020 Woodmere Art Museum. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher. Photography by Jack Ramsdale unless otherwise noted. Catalogue designed by Barb Barnett with assistance from Kelly Edwards and edited by Gretchen Dykstra. Front cover: The Spirits of My Reincarnation Brothers and Sisters, 2006–7, by Twins Seven-Seven (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase with funds provided by Robert and Frances Kohler, 2018) © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photograph by Rick Echelmeyer

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Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia: Bullock, Searles, and Twins Seven-Seven  

Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia: Bullock, Searles, and Twins Seven-Seven is an exhibition at Woodmere Art Museum, on view February 8-May1...

Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia: Bullock, Searles, and Twins Seven-Seven  

Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia: Bullock, Searles, and Twins Seven-Seven is an exhibition at Woodmere Art Museum, on view February 8-May1...