Monday, July 18, 2011

Soul of the City Students Tour U Street, Analyze Connection Between Art and Identity

Art Criticism Workshop Conducted by Local Artist Khánh H. Lê and Tour Led By Expert Guide Judith Bauer

This past week, the 2011 Soul of the City students continued their exploration of Washington, DC as a place to make a home. They heard from local artist Khánh H. Lê whose family immigrated to the United States from Vietnam. Lê says his works reflect his ambiguous relation to both Vietnamese and American culture. "Identity" writes Lê, "is the central theme of my works, and I examine it through the bits and pieces of my personal memory and the collective history of the two cultures."

Judith Bauer, who led the students up and down U Street, is an experienced tour guide and expert on the history of the corridor, once the hub of African American culture in Washington, DC. Despite decades of architectural and demographic changes the neighborhood still visibly retains much of the history cultivated during a time when this bastion of black middle-class values flourished in the shadow of Howard University. This heritage can be seen in the surviving African American owned businesses, preserved buildings such as the Prince Hall Masonic Temple and the Bowen YMCA, and Cultural Tourism DC's well demarcated walking tour.

Below are a few students' reactions to the sessions as recorded in their daily journals...

Q. Smith on Lê's family's struggle to gain a foothold in the United States after immigrating from Vietnam to St. Louis, Missouri...

He is from Vietnam, but was raised in America. When he first came to the US, he had nothing. His family only had two thousand dollars to spend, and his father bought a car with it. Then he went to college to be a computer programmer, and shortly after he dropped out. He then received a scholarship to become an artist.

Nateeka Lee on Lê's emotional connection to his work...

Khánh does not like showing his parents his art creations because when he was young his father use to say he should never show his emotions. His father said, “If I hit you, don’t cry.” Plus, he said his creations are personal to him.

Diamond Bynum on the U Street Tour and the African American Civil War Museum...

Mrs. Bauer was a great tour guide. She taught me a lot of stuff about how U Street came to be what it is today. When we went to the museum, Mr. Frank Smith taught us the real history of how the slaves were freed and the how the Emancipation of 1863 came to be.

Kevin Chappell on self-emancipation and African American participation in the Civil War...

When we went to the museum, I did not know what I would learn. I thought I knew everything about how the slaves became free. When I watched the presentation, I learned that Abraham Lincoln did not really free the slaves, but they actually freed themselves.

Next week, Soul of the City moves downtown where they will meet Ward 4 City Councilmember Muriel Bowser at the John A. Wilson Building. They will also visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History where they will explore RACE: Are We So Different, a new exhibition which opened on June 18th.

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