The first Saturday in December, Carol Charles was browsing through Plowshares Crafts Fair at Nottingham High School with Napoleon Jones-Henderson when they stopped near Ralph Minnifield's leather goods table. Jones-Henderson, who has an alert, steady gaze and a good handshake, was in Syracuse for the first of two Ford Foundation-sponsored artist-in-residence workshops for young people he's teaching at the Community Folk Art Center (CFAC). He returns in March or April for the second week. Charles, CFAC's managing director, said he'd be back before then too, for a group exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the continuously active AfriCOBRA collective.
The "Liberated Images" show's opening coincides with CFAC's third annual gala on Saturday, Feb. 2, marking CFAC's move into its present building. AfriCOBRA stands for "African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists." As the group's friend, poet and writer Larry Neal, put it in 1979, "bad means bold; bad means aesthetic integrity, artistic and social commitment."
Dr. Khelli Willets of Syracuse University's African American Studies first met Jones-Henderson in 2005 at an Atlanta conference. She knew the work of AfriCOBRA from her own research on art in the Black Power movement. Willets, CFAC's academic director, helped bring Jones-Henderson's exhibition, "Requiem for Our Fathers and Other Warriors," here in 2006 for CFAC's first gallery opening in the new building, a joint show with documentary photographer Marjory Wilkins.
He has other Syracuse ties too. Journalist Francis Ward and his wife Val crossed paths with Henderson-Jones when they operated Chicago's Kuumba Theater in 1968. "We shared a similar vision," Ward said, "about a new direction based on the role and responsibility of the Black artist."
Willets says the AfriCOBRA show is a perfect match for the gala event.
"What we do here all the time speaks to AfriCOBRA's mission -- art for and by the people. The gala really celebrates the African Diaspora. AfriCOBRA is not just about images -- they're messengers and political griots. Even if you didn't read, the work they do would grip you."