AFRICOBRA co-founder Gerald Williams (b. 1941, USA) attended FESTAC '77 in 1977 as part of the official American contingent to the festival, then returned to Africa just months later to volunteer for the Peace Corps. Williams created this drawing while serving in an assignment as Pre-vocational Director in the Jacaranda School for the Mentally Handicapped in Nairobi, Kenya, where he mentored students to produce handicrafts that were marketed in a store on the campus and in shops in town.
This image evokes the calm and peace of mind that Williams said he felt during this time.
Williams described that time in an interview archived in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art:
"I acquired a sense of calm that I hadn’t had before. Being surrounded by quietude, night-time listening to what they call bush babies … that’s kind of a primate … listening to these sounds at night. But having that sense of quietude that you only can get from solitude. Not absolute solitude—like you are sitting in a jail cell somewhere—but I’m talking about things just being settled around you. All the negative vibes from the day are gone. The sun is on the other side of the earth. You become conscious of that in certain environments. You’re not influenced by the energy of the sun when its on the other side of the planet … (laughs) … you understand what I’m saying … that inner peace, the calm I was able to attain … that allowed me to get a lot of this work done."
Artist Biography: Gerald Williams is an American painter whose work explores culture, place and identity from a global perspective. Williams is a co-founder of AFRICOBRA, an artist collective formed on the south side of Chicago in 1967, which became the definitive visual expression of the Black Arts Movement. Over time, his work has evolved into a polyrythmic representation of life at the intersection of figuration and abstraction, defined by what he calls “mimesis at midpoint.”
Williams distills the visual language of time, place, culture and identity in order to express the essence of reality in an aesthetically contemplative way. While a member of AFRICOBRA, he engaged in ongoing conversations with the group about how best to express their environment, their culture, and their moment in history. Those conversations resulted in the creation of iconic representations of contemporary Black culture. When Williams later traveled and worked in Africa, he continued that practice of aesthetic distillation while opening himself up to new techniques, materials and processes. The quiet nights in Nairobi; the rich colors of African clothing and architecture; the dynamic rhythms of life in the country and the city: all of these things transformed his aesthetic approach, and set him on a new path toward the polyrythmic aesthetic he maintains today, which reflects his global vision of the human condition.
The artist's studio, Chicago, USA Kavi Gupta, Chicago, USA
Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago, 2020, MCA, Chicago, IL, United States Wadsworth Jarrell & Gerald Williams: Works on Paper, 2021, Kavi Gupta, Chicago, USA