For Chotsani Elaine Dean, Assistant Professor of Art at the South Carolina School of the Arts at Anderson University, teaching isn’t standing in front of a classroom, lecturing while students gaze dreamily out the windows.
It’s about holding history in your hands. Of smelling salt air and standing in the sand, visiting sites of historical significance. It’s watching sweetgrass baskets being woven by artists with techniques dating back centuries. It’s about hearing the traditional songs of the Gullah/Geechee, brought to this land by the Transatlantic Trade of enslaved people from West Africa. It’s hearing spirituals sung with the collective memory of the people and their lived experiences.
And it’s the pursuit of those types of experiences that led Dean, who teaches ceramics at AU, to the Gullah/Geechee Nation.
“I wanted to give my students a first-hand look,” she said, describing the genesis of the History of Craft course she teaches about the intersection of culture, history and art. “So we rented a van and drove down to the coast.”
There, on St. Helena Island, their tour guide was none other than Queen Quet, Head of State of the Gullah/Geechee Nation.
“We followed her to landmark areas of significance to her people, exploring and contemplating more deeply the history of the Low Country, the Gullah/Geechee relationship to Charleston and their current identity and presence as a people,” Dean said. “My students had a wonderful time entering history through craft and the creative process: the making, the living, the culture. We aren’t just reading about it. We are seeing it firsthand.”
Now, members of the Anderson community can get their own glimpse.
Queen Quet is offering a one-hour histo-musical presentation of the Gullah/Geechee people and history on Monday, Feb. 26 at the G. Ross Anderson Student Center Theater at Anderson University. The free event, sponsored by the Art and Design Department of the South Carolina School of the Arts at AU, along with the AU Student Development office, AU Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Student Government and Clay Club, gets underway at 7 p.m.
In other words, buying a sweetgrass basket while vacationing in Charleston does little to help you learn about the Gullah/Geechee. Dean said her class offers a much broader perspective.
“We meet in the classroom.,” she said. “But the opportunity to visit the sites firsthand are creating an immersive learning experience of history, culture, craft and art. We experience it, and engage actively.”
It’s Dean’s hope that Queen Quet’s presentation will do the same: actively engage the audience in the fullness of this specific history.
“My goal is to get our students, and members of the community, to actively contribute in understanding other cultures,” she said.
It can be argued that a lack of understanding, after all, is at the heart of cultural conflicts today. Maybe, Dean said, a presentation like Queen Quet’s will help create dialogue about how learning from others can build cultural reconciliation.
“Her presentation, for me, is understanding the importance of preservation, of not letting everything disappear just because it doesn’t seem relevant, to learn by having the opportunity to hear someone else’s perspective and decide for yourself whether it’s something worth preserving.”
“When you expose yourself to something different, you learn how to sift through your own ideas.”