DEC Celebrates Black History Month 2024 - African Americans and the Arts
As the founders of Black History Month, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) shines a bright light on the richness of the past and the present with an eye to the future. ASALH dedicates its 98th Annual Black History theme to African Americans and the arts.
“African American art is infused with African, Caribbean, and the Black American lived experiences. In the fields of visual and performing arts, literature, fashion, folklore, language, film, music, architecture, culinary and other forms of cultural expression, the Black and African American influence has been paramount. Black and African American artists have used art to preserve history and community memory as well as for empowerment. Artistic and cultural movements such as the New Negro, Black Arts, Black Renaissance, hip-hop, and Afrofuturism, have been led by people of African descent and set the standard for popular trends around the world.”
Many art forms, particularly the visual arts and temporal and corporal arts, reflect nature and the environment in the artists’ work. For example, the movements of traditional African dance vary depending upon the way the environment defines and guides dancers’ daily lives.
“For farmers of the savanna, the ground is solid and their space open to the far horizon. They place their feet firmly on the sunbaked earth as they follow their team leader on the circular path of their dance, performing simple foot patterns at a steady tempo. The Ijo people, who live in the mangrove swamps of the Niger delta, traditionally wrest an uneasy living by fishing creeks and rivers. As they dance, they lean forward from the hips, their torsos almost parallel with the earth as they use a precision of light, rapid foot beats, moving their weight from heel to toe to side of foot in a variety of rhythmic patterns, as though balancing on an unsteady canoe or picking their way through the swamp.”
Black and African Americans have also incorporated art forms into the environment through photography, not only to showcase the beauty of the outdoors but to show how everyone has a space in it. One such collection of books and stories is Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors, by Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro. Other writers use the power of their words to chronicle how discrimination alienated or dismissed the contributions of Black people in developing the policies designed to help protect natural resources and improve the health of communities. The Rise of the American Conservation Movement by Dorceta E. Taylor provides an insightful account of how race, as well as class and gender, brought about the activism that confronted the barriers to environmental change.
The environment benefits us all and we all have a place in it, but more importantly, we all have a role and a responsibility to improve the environment for ourselves and future generations. If you want to stay engaged in DEC’s work to protect New York’s environment, are interested in joining the team at DEC, or want to find new outdoor spaces to enjoy, please continue exploring our website and subscribe to a newsletter about topics that may interest you.