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Poetry and art celebrate African American identities

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Lilliana Perez
Staff Writer

Evie Shockley and Camille Dungy, co-authors of “Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe,” shared their poetry included in the book on Nov. 12 at the Pomona College commemoration of the “Of Aether and Earthe” exhibition catalog.

Saar is a sculptor, mixed-media and installation artist whose work centers around the African diaspora as well as African American identity. Her exhibit “Of Aether and Earthe” is being presented as a joint effort by the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena and the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College.

The exhibition catalog, available for sale online, promotes black female statues as well as the transformation of environmental properties. Saar, Shockley and Dungy worked together on the book, with Shockley and Dungy writing poems that relate with certain pieces of art that Saar created by Saar.

Dungy read a few short poems and started with one of the first poems she ever wrote, called “What You Want.” This poem centered around women and the strength that women hold as well as how a girl transforms into a woman.

She continued to her next piece “Would I Be” which accompanied the art piece Saar created named “Topsy Turvy.” This poem focused on the many questions that arise within people in the world. Dungy said that everyone had their own questions and that there were no set of questions that applied to everyone.

“This piece was centered more on the tension that is between the natural world and the human world,” Dungy said.

She also read her poem that was included in the book, titled “Afterbirth,” which depicted the strength of new mothers. The poem compares new mothers to animals when she said, “..they are like animals, the new mothers. Mouths to feed and flanks to warm.”

Shockley was the next to read. One of her poems from the book is called “Perched,” and responds to Saar’s sculpture, “Blue Bird.” The narrator is African American and depicts the strength of Black people in the world and includes a quote that sends a message of strength; “I am Black and becoming.”

Another poem she read from the book was “Mami Wata (or How to Know a Goddess When You See One).” This poem centered around the relationship between African-Americans and rivers. 

“I have loved Alison’s work for years and we have collaborated in the past,” Shockley said. “I was delighted to have the chance to contribute a poem to the amazing catalog for the Benton Museum/Armory Arts Center exhibition.”

Eva Molina, sophomore English major at Pomona College, said part of the reason she attended was because she is currently reading “Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe.”

“It’s really special to hear the poets read their own works,” Molina said. “It’s interesting to hear how they read it and how different it is from the way I read it. The poetry just comes alive with different voices.”

For more information on “Of Aether and Earthe,” or to purchase the exhibition catalog, visit pomona.edu/museum/exhibitions/2020/alison-saar.

Lilliana Perez can be reached at lilliana.perez@laverne.edu.

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