African Diaspora explored in paintings, poetry

March 3, 2009 | Arts
By Angela Riddel



The thought-provoking work of artist Imo Nse Imeh and poet David Ragland is on display in the Center for the Visual Arts Gallery on UT’s Toledo Museum of Art Campus through Sunday, March 15.

“Converging Aesthetics: Counterpoint in Image & Text” is a culmination of a series of collaborative works between Imeh and Ragland. The project began in 2004 when Ragland, a scholar of philosophy and peace education, began to interpret Imeh’s drawings and paintings in spontaneous poems.

“Unearthing Pangaea,” acrylic and oil on canvas, by Imo Nse Imeh, poetry by David Ragland

“Unearthing Pangaea,” acrylic and oil on canvas, by Imo Nse Imeh, poetry by David Ragland

Soon afterward, Imeh began to create works that incorporated Ragland’s haunting poetry.

The synthesis was inevitable as both the artist and the poet address the complexities of the African Diaspora — the movement of Africans and their descendents throughout the world — and the nuanced relationship between black identity, representation and corporeal documentation.

This exhibition is the first public demonstration of Ragland’s and Imeh’s collaborative venture.

Imeh is pursuing a doctoral degree at Yale University in the History of Art Department. The title of his dissertation is “Daughters of Seclusion: The Ibibio Aesthetic in the Staging of a Female Icon.”

“My current paintings are the visual embodiment of my dissertation,” Imeh wrote in an artist’s statement. “It addresses mbopo, a women’s ceremony in Ibibioland, Nigeria, whose chief characteristics are the ritual confinement and fattening of girls prior to marriage. My project analyzes the extent to which feminine ideals of beauty, power and spirituality in southern Nigeria translate into unique demonstrations of corporeality, decadence, transfiguration and sanguinity.

“Consequently, my work dramatizes Ibibio ambivalence and paradox: I show stoic faces and tranquil bodies paired with screaming and tortured forms that writhe in pain, black bodies that float gracefully juxtaposed with overtly angular and violent gestures, textual bodies that encompass an infinite number of corporeal phrases to rewrite the histories of black trauma, separation and spirituality. These are the things that truly represent and speak volumes of the experience of the African Diaspora.”

Ragland is a PhD candidate in philosophy of education at The University of Toledo. He graduated from Columbia University in 2002 and 2006 with a master of arts degree in international educational development and peace education and a master of education degree in philosophy and education, respectively.

Ragland’s first volume of poetry, Critical Eyes, was released in 2007.

He has taught Philosophy of Peace Education at The University of Toledo, and Philosophy, Ethics, and Teaching and Schools for a Diverse and Democratic Society at Eastern Michigan University.

Ragland is living in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., teaching ethics and philosophy at Marist College and working as a house adviser at Vassar College.

The free, public exhibit can be seen Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

For more information, call the UT Department of Art at 419.530.8300 or go to www.utoledo.edu/as/art.