NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 132

Melvin Edwards LYDIE DIAKHATÉ © KA YELEMA PRODUCTIONS, 2016 ©2016 MELVIN EDWARDS / ARTIST’S RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK PHOTOGRAPH BY ADAM KHALIL The Poetics of the Blacksmith By r Melvin Edwards in his studio in Plainfield, New Jersey 130 The sun is high. The light is slightly foggy. A dry mist is dispersed by the last breaths of the Harmattan. It is March 2014, two o’clock, on a Saturday afternoon. I am driving to Dakar from the small village of Yene Tode, located on the eastern coast of Senegal. I am meeting with the renowned African American sculptor, Melvin Edwards, in his Senegalese studio. Born in 1937 in Houston, Texas, he grew up in the segregated South of the United States. He is a pioneer in the history of contemporary African American art and sculpture. Edwards has made a significant contribution to American art, in terms of aesthetics and the restitution of knowledge and patrimony. Several of his works are in permanent collections of major museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in Texas, and the Los Angeles County Museum in Los Angeles. As I pass the city of Diamniadio, thirty kilometers from the capital, sitting at the heart of an ambitious expansion project called Millenium Plateform, I can see, by the side of the road, women lying down behind multicolored stalls and their masses of papayas, oranges, avocados, corrosols, lemons, konkorongs, watermelons, tomatoes and greens. The way this continuous dialogue between tradition and modernity builds contemporaneity within the social, visual and cultural context in African cities is always fascinating to me. I remember one of Edwards’ small circle pieces titled “Diamniadio.” In Serer — the third most spoken language out of thirty-six in Senegal — Diamniadio means ‘return in peace’. For Edwards, this phrase resonates with ideas of memory, of coming and going, cultural and creative movements, and cross-pollination between cultural and social realities. Edwards views Dakar as a crossroads — metaphorically, literally, as well as autobiographically.