ZORA! Sustaining a culture of color
Annual multi-day festival celebrates life of folklorist Zora Neale Hurston with plenty of art, crafts, history
Master Artist Charles Bibbs is renowned for his ability to bring the nuance of African-American culture to life through his visual artistry. The California resident’s work, like the one above, was showcased at the festival.
(PENNY DICKERSON/SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER)
BY PENNY DICKERSON
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
The town of Eatonville celebrated the 24th annual ZORA! Festival with the theme: Zora’s Eatonville: Culture as Conservator of Community’s Heritage. The multi-day Zora Neale Hurston namesake event kicked off on Jan. 26 with its traditional pageantry and robust arts and cultural contributions from the African Diaspora to Florida.
A global perspective of the Humanities gave the 2013 occasion a unique educational approach with invited guests from Moscow, Russia and a rare view of Native American life through the lens of award-winning documentary producer Anne Makepeace. The event ended on Feb. 3 with a practical approach to preventive disease for African-Americans by Celebrity Chef Marvin Woods.
The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community (P.E.C.) has presented the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities since 1990. Broadly known by the exclamatory epithet – ZORA!, this year’s festival marks the conclusion of a two-year celebration of Historic Eatonville’s 125th anniversary as the nation’s oldest incorporated African-American municipality.
The anthropologist, folklorist, and essayist emerged as a creative force during the Harlem Renaissance and advanced to literary stature as an intellectual who was imbued with a unique ability to vividly portray southern life
Historically deemed nomadic and restless with an exuberant personality and penchant for wearing hats, Hurston was born Jan. 7, 1891 and died Jan. 28, 1960. The festival in her adopted hometown of Eatonville is held each January in her posthumous memory through visual arts, oral history, traditional crafts, film, and, above all – literature.
An intimate affair of brunch and haute couture, the tradition is known as the festival’s hottest ticket in town and allows women ages 21 to 54 an opportunity to be “the stars” for an advance price of $50 and $55 at the door. Rhythmic to attitude, HATitude is celebratory of Hurston’s colorful existence and Renaissance flair for finishing outfits with a hat.
“I am not really a hat lover at all, “said Phillips. “I’ve heard so many great things about the brunch, but the most important thing I was told was you can’t get in without wearing a hat. For a few hours, I can learn to love a hat.”
Art in Eatonville
Master Artist Charles Bibbs is renowned for his innate ability to bring the nuance of African-American culture to life through his visual artistry. The southern California native currently resides in Riverside and began his career as a street artist who worked as a supervisor for Boeing aircraft.
“I left aviation and became a full-time artist in 1993,” offered Bibbs. “African-American people created a market for African-American art and I was in the right place at the right time.”
Bibbs cannot boast any formal training, but has a degree in business with a minor in Art. From California streets to Eatonville’s Kennedy Boulevard, the spectacled genius joined colleagues on fine arts lane where he welcomed a continual host of fans and emerging artists eager to meet the man who masters both his people and color.
“I’m a mixed media artist, mainly acrylic and ink,” explained Bibbs. “I’m a believer that you paint by what you know and what you experience and that’s what I’ve done over the years and I’ve been successful at it…the important thing that I preach is that we need to breed collectors. And they need a starting point.
They need to be able to buy a poster and a print and as they move on, they will be able to understand what they are buying through education.”
According to Bibbs, art is based upon affordability and he belongs to a community of artists who seek to merge the efforts of a mainstream and elite audience to advance the art form and opportunities for all. When asked the advice he would give potential artists, Bibbs imparts, “Approach it like a business and not something so special you can’t part with.”
From tofu to turkey
Everybody screamed for the fresh churned, homemade ice cream and additional sugary delights during the popular “Outdoor Festival of the Arts.” Amidst children performing on the steps of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, street peddlers pushed red wagons filled with candy apples down Kennedy Boulevard while vendors prodded visitors into rows of white tents.
For a fixed or bargained price, attendees could purchase everything from pure African shea butter to T-shirts from President Barack Obama’s inauguration. In the biggest tent, adjacent to preferred soul food and fried fish that has watered festival palettes for years, Celebrity Chef Marvin Woods led a one-man campaign to help African-Americans prevent the prevalent diseases that affect our race: diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. Behind a colorful set of fresh fruit, exotic spices and natural grain ingredients, Woods simultaneously lectured and demonstrated a healthy recipe using either tofu or turkey for chili.
“I’m giving you a recipe that is easy and nutritious,” said Woods. “African-Americans are used to smoked meats that are not really naturally smoked, but rather injected with smoke flavors. That’s sodium and creates a high salt intake and leads to diseases that can shorten lives.”
Woods suggested smoked paprika for a spice and the grains Quinoa and Farro as white rice alternatives. Upon sampling the final product, many guests were shocked at their affinity to adapt to the recipe. “I eat any and everything, but I do it in moderation,” explained Woods. “People need to learn the concept of eat more weigh less: 64 ounces of water, five meals a day, and some form of exercise.”
Bridging the Black male gap
Consistent with the festival’s theme, innovative artists represented projects created to give voice to the role of communities in the preservation of heritage.
Houston activist and artist Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row Houses joined Hank Willis Thomas for an opening reception and gallery talk on the cutting edge transmedia art project titled Question Bridge: Black Males.
The brainchild of innovators Thomas and Chris Johnson, the two collaborated with Bayete Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair to document provocative dialogue that stemmed from a five-channel video installation representing more than 150 Black men in 12 U.S. cities. Considered more of a “megalogue,” the stream-of -consciousness inquiries run the gamut of family, love, sexuality, community, education, and the most prevalent dilemma for today’s black men: violence.
A predominantly female audience attended an evening community engagement and panel discussion on Feb. 1 in the Eatonville Library following a walk-through tour in the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts on Kennedy Boulevard.
“The project is not just about Black males, it’s about people and how people react when put in a group, and how they react within that group,” explained Thomas.
Featured males posed questions like the poignant, “What is common to us as Black males?” A male responds: “Our commonality is in our history. Our beauty is who we are as Black people.” That respondent then poses his own question and the cyclic inquiry continues.
Captured responses ranged from the candid, “What’s so cool about selling crack?” to an incarcerated Black male in the San Diego prison being asked, “Are you ready for freedom?” A continued “Talk Back” session was held Saturday afternoon during “Family Day.”
“We need a little bit of money from a whole lot of people,” pleaded N.Y. Nathiri, director of Multidisciplinary Programs and Chair of the ZORA! Festival National Planners. The committee dedicated a full page in the festival guide outlining their appeal to “those who value ZORA! Festival. The following is explicitly outlined as follows:
“For the first since the P.E.C. began competing for tourist development tax grant dollars (2002), ZORA! Festival 2013 was not recommended for funding. However, on October 16 (2012), in a first-ever, one-time exception, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, in a 6-1 vote, allocated the $150.000, $1-for-$1 cash match grant to P.E.C. as long as our organization was able to meet certain stipulations…one of those stipulations was to make a report on April 2013 which addresses how well our organization has been able to expand its funding base; and to demonstrate a “broad public endorsement” of ZORA! Festival by documenting the individual financial investments we receive during “the festival cycle,” i.e. November 1, 2012 – April 30, 2013.”
Their first effort to address the aforementioned was to charge admission. Attendees ages 17 and younger were admitted free. Those older were asked to give a cash donation. The future of ZORA! Festival and Hurston’s cultural legacy rests in the contributions left in envelopes provided by the community. Next year the festival will celebrate its 25th anniversary.