By Andrew Silagi
This past Tuesday, November 7, The Big Read Lakeshore hosted an enriching and engaging event at the Kruizenga Art Museum on Hope College’s campus. The event had a total of eleven participants. This event began with a welcome by student intern Addie Wilcox and a short talk by museum curator Charles Mason on the new exhibit curated specifically for this year’s Big Read selection, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Mason discussed the exhibit, entitled “Parallels: A Big Read Exhibition”, which includes six pairs of artworks from African and African-American artists, respectively.
Mason explained his vision for the exhibit was to mirror the two sides of the narrative Gyasi tells in Homegoing. Some of the works showcased in these pairs were grouped together based on medium such as an African-American quilt and cloth blankets or ceramic pieces from both groups. Other pieces were paired for more thematic reasons. One notable example of these pairings is the central pairing, which connected the African and African-American sides of slavery through a photograph of someone from the U.S. entering the Cape Coast Castle back in Ghana, and a picture portraying the complicitness West Africans had in the slave trade. This pairing is fascinating because of its emphasis on both Europeans and Africans’ guilt in creating a lucrative slave trade.
After Mason introduced the exhibit, a fellow Hope student, Charles Keegan, and I led a discussion on the connections between the book and art exhibit. Many of the discussion questions addressed the symbols of the book as well as symbols from the participants’ own family histories and how particular objects can have significant family meaning. Participants brought stories about their unique families and where they find home and true connection. Some of the most thought-provoking topics discussed were the ideas of lost or compromised cultural or ethnic identities as well as heirlooms without any identification to show its history or attachment to the past. Charles Keegan gave a story of his black sister’s adoption and how she has felt isolated and singled out for much of her life, though she has been able to come more into her own as she has started college.
Overall, the event was successful. It reminded me of the beautiful relationship art and words have and how they can enhance stories together in a particular way that they lack on their own. While one is immediate, the other is gradual, and a combination of both of these methods of taking in a piece of work can be equally enriching. The Kruizenga Art Museum will hold this exclusive Big Read exhibit until December 16, and it is a great companion piece to Homegoing—be sure to check it out!