Threading the History of Columbus
Denison Museum intern and studio art major Ellie Schrader ’23 offers her interpretation of the exhibition Composing Communities, the work of Aminah Robinson.
Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson (1940-2015) was a prolific multimedia artist whose two-and three-dimensional works visually interpret the legacies and lives of African American individuals and communities, specifically those in Columbus. A native resident of Columbus, Robinson was born and raised in Poindexter Village, one of the nation’s first federally funded public housing developments, and the place she learned about artmaking.
Robinson is a narrator of untold and underrepresented stories, her work is described as “filling in the blank pages of American history.” A MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, Robinson was acclaimed for her dedication to family, ancestry, and storytelling.
Largely guided philosophically by the Ghanaian concept of Sankofa, which emphasizes reflection upon the past to build a successful future, Robinson drew inspiration from her relationships, historic records, and personal and collective memories to capture the endurance of Black cultures across time and space. Simultaneously confronting the universal struggles and oppression facing African Americans while uplifting and celebrating their heritage and strength, Robinson’s work joyously reclaims and celebrates Blackness. Out of this, a sense of hope, unity, and love is born.
Reflective of a passionate drive to create about the social environment surrounding her, Robinson’s signature traditional folk-art style combines with an eclectic range of mediums reliant on her immediate environment: traditional materials, including handmade paper, natural dyes, watercolor, and ink, everyday found objects such as buttons and fabric, as well as the non-conventional–mud, shells, twigs, and so on. Expressively woven into books, sculpted into figures, and scrawled in ink upon parchment, she becomes a visual historian who chronicles Black Americans’ everyday lives and experiences.
Currently exhibited and most representative of Robinson’s artistic identity is Poindexter Village: Script and Libretto Symphonic Poem. This lively artist’s book embodies the qualities Robinson is best recognized for and functions as an encyclopedia of her life. A cloth sleeve cover intricately detailed with ornate buttons and charms, collaged fabric figures, and sewn titles, encases the tome. The internal components are just as intricate and carefully designed. Opening the book, viewers see a hand-illustrated inside cover followed by a colorful title page and table of contents. The book is comprised of five “movements”: Mt. Vernon Avenue, Migration, Blackberry Patch, Poindexter Village, and Growman Tales.
These movements tell of the characters and community in Columbus, her family’s heritage and journeys migrating to Ohio, generational stories handed down by family, life in Poindexter, and tales shared with the children of Poindexter.
Each entry is freely and intimately written, like a diary or journal, and Inked watercolor illustrations and visual manifestations of written memories occasionally accompany the text. While some of the many entries are completed, others are interrupted or remain unfinished. It embodies Robinson’s mind and mission– vibrant, candid, and spiritually evocative, it is devoted to the people and places she loved most.
The selected works on display are in conversation with the ongoing show, Gordon Parks & Contemporaries: Through the Lens. Both exhibitions position themes of music and poetry within the framework of the Black experience. Dedicated in memory of the late Terrance Dean, Denison University Assistant Professor in Black Studies and the Columbus Museum of Art’s first Aminah Robinson Scholar-in-Residence, Composing Communities: The Work of Aminah Robinson is now on view at the Denison Museum January 16 through May 14.
As a Denison Museum intern, studio art major Ellie Schrader ’23 gains a lot of skills, including data organization and analysis, social media and public relations, podcasting, videography, web design, graphic design and marketing on InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator platforms, and more. These skills prepare Denison students to qualify for interesting internships, enter graduate schools and find careers in many fields.