November 13, 2008

Family Jewels

Latest work of artist Maya Freelon Asante ’05 spans three generations

It is probably safe to assume that as a youngster, budding artist Maya Freelon Asante ’05 kept her parents’ refrigerator door covered with one-of-a-kind original works. Now, Asante’s latest design graces the album cover of a Grammy-nominated singer, who just so happens to be her mother.

The visual artist’s most recent experimentation with tissue paper collage adorns Better Than Anything, the latest recording by her mother, renowned jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon. Fittingly, Asante says the artwork was inspired by her mother and grandmother. After stumbling upon delicate pieces of old tissue paper in her grandmother’s basement, Asante began integrating it into her work and found it to be the perfect medium for this project.

“Creating the portrait mosaic of my mother, using a tissue paper technique inspired by my grandmother, linked three generations of first-born women in my family,” says Asante. “Tissue paper represents the fragility of people, the environment, and the world. As little fragments are pieced together, they transform into something stronger and more beautiful than just individual scraps.”

This concept, which Asante uses throughout her work, is epitomized by the African ideology of Ubuntu, meaning “I am because we are.” “After all,” she says, “we are all fragments of our ancestors.”

Asante accompanied her mother on Freelon’s July world tour, photographing performances and planning future projects as they traveled. “Right now we are planning a collaboration among my grandmother, mother, and myself to be unveiled at my upcoming solo exhibition, Free,” Asante notes. The exhibit will run in January 2009 at the University of North Carolina’s Robert and Sallie Brown Gallery and Museum. As the Sonja Haynes Center’s visiting artist for the Spring ’09 semester at UNC, Asante will conduct community workshops with local organizations and schools under the auspices of her 2005 arts initiative, Make Your Mark Art. She explains, “The program seeks to help organizations and community groups utilize art for empowerment .”

Also making headlines is Asante’s participation in the July group exhibition She’s So Articulate at the Arlington (Va.) Art Center. A review appearing in the September/October issue of Art Papers magazine “mentions the connection between my artwork and that of legendary artist Faith Ringgold, with whom I worked at Lafayette’s Experimental Printmaking Institute under the guidance of art professor, department head, and founding director of EPI, Curlee Holton,” states Asante.

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