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Meet Otabenga Jones & Associates

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Date and time
Friday, July 18, 2008

*After 1968* artists Otabenga Jones & Associates lead a gallery discussion inspired by their ongoing educational art collaboration. Otabenga Jones & Associates is a Houston-based educational art collaborative named after Ota Benga, a pygmy brought to the United States from Africa in the early 1900s and exhibited at the Bronx Zoo. Jones committed suicide after being released from captivity. The artistic group explores African American identity politics through installation and performance art.

Napoleon Jones-Henderson attended the Sorbonne in Paris, received a BA of Fine Arts from the Art Institute of Chicago and completed his graduate studies at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. He is a founding member of Africobra, one of the most important visual arts collectives to come out of the Chicago Black Arts Movement. He received the Mayor of Boston Award of Recognition for Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit; the Massachusetts State Senate Omical Citation for Cultural Excellence, and an Award of Excellence from the National Conference of Artists.
Kenya Evans's paintings and sculptures convey an intentionally didactic message about history's tendency to repeat itself. In their sampling of diverse references, these pseudo historical collages, which combine texts from children's books with popular toys, and comics with Islamic proverbs, comment on the reductive simplicity of history books, while asserting their own critical analysis of the foundations on which the United States was built. Evans is also a hip-hop musician, and his use of the medium itself a repository of black experience and a primary means of black expression in his artwork functions to create a multilayered juxtaposition of historical and contemporary situations, making it all too clear that little has changed. Evans is a member of Otabenga Jones & Associates.
Rob Pruitt is an internationally renowned contemporary artist who came to fame in the late 1980's as half of the art team Pruitt Early. Their celebrated bodies of work, "Artwork for Teenage Boys" and "Artwork for Teenage Girls," took art about gender politics into a radical new pop arena. In 1998, Pruitt created "Cocaine Buffet," "101 Art Ideas You Can Do Yourself," and his popular glitter paintings of panda bears. Abrams Publishing will be releasing a comprehensive career monograph entitled Low and Behold: the Art of Rob Pruitt.
Houston-based artist Jamal Cyrus's work examines the spaces between radical socio-political movements and untold histories, both real and imagined. For his first New York solo exhibition, Cyrus presents a new series of drawings, sculptures and videos that use Palmer Hayden's seminal social realist painting *The Janitor Who Paints* (1937) as a point of departure. Echoing this narrative scene, Cyrus creates an interrelated series of videos and drawings wherein the janitor's persona and his immediate tools become a metaphor for recovering the creative production of the overlooked and unnamed. Evocatively reworking the symbolic and political traditions in Hayden's painting, Cyrus explores slippages between the metaphysical and the ordinary, overlapping ideas of labor and creativity and the retelling of historical narratives.
Mixed-media painter Dawolu Jabari Anderson attended Texas Southern University in Houston. While enrolled there, he participated in numerous prestigious exhibitions. Along with his individual success, Anderson is a founding member of the Otabenga Jones & Associates collective, which was formed by Anderson and the artists Jamal Cyrus, Kenya Evans, and Robert Pruitt after meeting at Texas Southern University. In 2006, the collective was invited to participate in the Whitney Biennial, displaying both their collective and individual works, and all have since experienced steady success.
Michael Harris joined the High Museum of Art as the first consulting curator of African American Arts in January 2005. As a consulting curator, Harris will continue his duties at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he has been associate professor of African and African American Art History since 1996. In spring 2004, Harris served as a visiting professor of art at Dillard University in New Orleans, and has taught at Duke University, Georgia State University, Morehouse College and Wellesley College. Harris, who has published extensively, curated the exhibition "Transatlantic Dialogue" that traveled to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and to the Tampa Museum of Art, and co-curated "Astonishment and Power" at the National Museum of African Art in 1993. In 1996, Harris completed a doctorate at Yale University.