The African American Performance Art Archive (aapaa.org) makes crucial documentation of historically significant performances by African American artists available on-line to artists, scholars, and students in the spirit of intellectual exchange.

I began the archive in order to apply the questions posed by performance artists to the study of art history.  In the process, I hope to give artists a greater voice in scholarly debate and explore what it means to study African American art.

During the fall of 2009, my graduate seminar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill built the present alpha version of the archive through a collaborative process.  We contributed historical essays to the site but also approached our project with questions about how the design of an archive mediates the knowledge it engenders.

The first six participating artists were invited to provide documentation of one or more performances or other materials to be published or streamed as a part of the archive.  Their generosity consisted of 35mm slides, exhibition announcements, posters, photographs, and videos.  I am grateful to Maren Hassinger, Senga Nengudi, Clifford Owens, Ben Patterson, Xaviera Simmons, and Saya Woolfalk for playing such an important role in this project.  I am currently developing ways for additional artists, scholars, and students to contribute as the archive grows.

This is also a preservation project.  Data for the archive will eventually be hosted long-term by the Carolina Digital Repository, a project of the UNC Library Systems.

If you use the archive, please share your thoughts and suggestions with us.  As the archive develops, I hope it can begin to serve as a forum for research and art-making.

The archive exists in its current form because of the contributions of the students who built it: Jennie Carlisle, Kia Carscallen, Cheryl Caskey, Amalle Dublon, Lindsay Dunn, Liz Fox, Laura Fravel, Joanna Gohmann, Annah Lee, Sarah Schultz, Shahrazad Shareef, and Diane Woodin.  Erica Longenbach also played an important role in research and logistics.

I received funding for this project from UNC’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities’ CHAT program (Collaborations: Humanities, Arts and Technology).  I especially wish to thank John McGowan, Director, and Megan Granda, Executive Director, for their encouragement and support.  Additional funding came from the Hanes Visiting Artist Lecture Endowment, the Alumni Sculpture Garden Endowment, and the John and June Allcott Endowment, UNC Department of Art.  I thank my colleagues, Mary Sheriff, Juan Logan, Roxana Perez-Mendez, and Cary Levine, for their assistance as I developed the archive project and for making Clifford Owens’ residency possible.  I also thank Joseph Megel, director of the Process Series at Gerrard Hall, which is sponsored by UNC’s Office of the Executive Director for the Arts and StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance.

Further advice and assistance has come from across the UNC-CH campus: Heather Gendron, Art Librarian, Sloane Art Library; JJ Bauer, Curator, Visual Resources Library; Holly Smith, Overholser Archival Fellow for African American Studies, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library; Biff Hollingsworth, Collecting and Public Programming Archivist, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library; Andy Lang, Jeff VanDrimmelen, Sean Semone, and Will Bosley, Office of Arts & Sciences Information Services; Kathy Kyzer and Suzanne Cadwell, Information and Technology Services: Teaching and Learning; Karin Reese, Center for Faculty Excellence; and Roxanna Perez-Mendez, John and June Allcott Gallery, Department of Art.

–John Bowles

Associate Professor of African American Art, Department of Art

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

February 4, 2010


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