Sharing a bowl of rice may seem like an ordinary event, but for Alexandria Robinson ’18, it helped her learn more about her identity as an artist.
The Fine Arts major, who was born and raised on the island of Nassau in the Bahamas, shared rice and other foods with people she met on her trip to Ghana in the summer of 2017 for her junior year internship.
“I went to Ghana primarily to see how other black cultures interacted with each other, but as a result I learned more about myself and the real reason I think I feel kind of displaced here in America,” she said.
Not only did she find that Ghanaian food is similar to food in the Bahamas, she felt comfortable in that society.
“Another interesting thing was the way people ate there – they eat together out of the same bowl,” she recalled. “I feel like that was more intimate than what I’ve experienced around the table. People talked and laughed more. I really enjoyed that.”
A JOURNEY OF LEARNING
Robinson’s trip was made possible by the Sis Grenald International Travel Fellowship and the Happy Fernandez Women’s Leadership Fellowship. The funds paid for her flight, Airbnb, food and transportation.
Part of her proposal for the travel fellowship reads: “After coming to the United States two years ago and experiencing African American art and culture, I started to lose sight of who I was and how I defined myself as a black person. That, along with the language barrier that I face every day, makes me constantly rethink my self-identity.”
For her internship, Robinson was based in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and also traveled to Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi. She was involved with the organization blaxTarlines, which is a contemporary art incubator and project space within the university’s Department of Painting and Sculpture. She helped put together the department’s annual exhibition of contemporary art.
Robinson also joined students from KNUST to help paint a large mural by the artist Godfried Donkor, and she saw various types of art in exhibitions in other parts of Ghana.
While Robinson learned a lot during her internship, returning from Ghana prompted her realization that it wasn’t the fact that she was a black person that made her uncomfortable in the United States.
“I was enjoying myself so much within the culture,” she said. “When I came back to Philadelphia, I thought about how it was mostly the culture that I missed in Ghana, and not the fact that I was surrounded by a large population of black people.”
The strong emotions she was feeling when she returned now inform her art.
“Going to Ghana made me realize that that is what bothers me,” she said. “The fact that when I’m in the U.S., I’m not in a culture where I’m completely comfortable, but I feel like it gives me the motivation to do things, the discomfort that I feel. I feel like that’s very important to my work, I feel like location is important.”
HER NEXT MOVE
She’s currently making large self-portraits – her thoughtful face in black and white framed by a collage of color and symbols from her culture that make her feel comfortable – and says her paintings are informed by her feelings of displacement.
“I think what I enjoyed most was interacting with the people,” she said about the friends she made in Ghana. “I felt like I was able to be my complete self. I have friends here in America, I do, and I interact with them fine, and we have conversations, but I feel like I can't speak in my dialect sometimes, or just talk about things that my culture and the Ghanaian culture share.”
Robinson is considering displacing herself again when she graduates from Moore. She is thinking of living in London.
“A lot of Caribbeans go there, a lot of Africans go there,” she said. “I feel like I would meet a lot of great artists there I can talk to, but also still have that feeling of displacement or discomfort, where I can put that back into the work. So I feel like that’s what I got most out of it, that location is very important to me.”