Next to these African American profiles is writing on the wall explaining the background and purpose of the new exhibit at the Weisman Museum. Referring to the Kinsey family and their collection, the exhibit is “a visual experience in multiple parts, with multiple intersections, that illuminates the passion of one family for the history that has defined American identity.” Photos by Sammie Wuensche.
The Frederick R. Weisman Museum at Pepperdine held the official opening of “The Cultivators: Highlights from the Kinsey African American Art and History Collection Saturday, Feb. 19.”
This collection features art and history displaying the “lives, accomplishments and artistry” of African Americans over the past five centuries. This exhibit contains a fraction of the Kinseys’ collection and what they said they aim to collect and display. A February 2021 news release announced the Kinseys’ Collection coming to the Weisman Museum. The Kinseys said they are proud Pepperdine graduates excited to share their exhibition with their University.
“Shirley, Khalil and I have poured our lives and legacies into curating this powerful, and often difficult, part of the American story,” Bernard Kinsey said. “Now it will be a special privilege to impart a bit of what we have learned and loved to a whole generation of Pepperdine undergraduate and graduate students. Our future is sometimes the product of the stories we tell about the past. This collection represents a neglected part of our American story.”
Senior Kelly Griffin said he worked for the museum for about four months and worked the sign-in booth at the museum’s entrance for the opening. Being familiar with the Kinseys and their collection, he said he enjoyed seeing the way they connect with the people around them and divided up the exhibit.
“[The Kinseys] have this way of bringing this energy into the room that I’m kind of inspired by,” Griffin said. “I love that [the exhibit’s] divided into art and history where there’s an art [section] that has history in it, there’s a section that’s just history and a section that’s just art. They did a really great job curating the collection and giving us the best.”
The Kinseys’ collection is well-loved and known by many who walked into the Weisman Museum.
Exhibit attendee Beverly Newton from View Park-Windsor Hills said she came to the exhibit because she picked up a book of the Kinseys’ collection 15 years ago and was amazed by its quality. In the exhibit, Newton said she connected with a painting of a Drum Major.
“I’ve seen a print of [the piece], but I’ve never seen it in person and the colors are more vibrant,” Newton said. “[The piece] just says it all about traditional Black colleges and band and I like that.”
Rachael Traynor, a student at Harvard University, said she came to the exhibit because of her passion for art and to experience Pepperdine. Traynor said she was immediately drawn to a painting of a woman with an orange scarf because of the oil and the texture. Looking closer, she said observing the painting was both interesting and intimate.
“It’s like you’re being invited into someone’s home,” Traynor said. “You’ve never met this person. They could have died, you know, 50 years ago, but you know them. That’s just what’s fascinating about art.”
Ebony Porter and her children drove two hours from San Gabriel Valley, Calif., to experience the exhibit. Porter said she wanted her children to see the art, African American culture and Pepperdine. In examining the Brown vs. The Board of Education document in the collection, she noted its significance for her children.
“Less than 100 years ago, it was illegal for them to go to school where they go,” Porter said. “I pulled up their grades, and all three girls have straight As. There was a time when there wouldn’t have been an opportunity for them to be able to.”
As a business student at the Pepperdine graduate school, Malia Smith received an email about the opening and after reading more about the Kinseys and their collection, decided to check it out. Smith said she didn’t know what to expect at first, but the exhibit did not disappoint.
“I think the gallery has been curated really well with the Civil Rights Movement and then a personal touch with the family, and then the various works in this room,” Smith said. “So I think it’s flowing really well.”
Nkem Nwogu said that being from Nigeria he wasn’t taught much about African American history and only began to learn more while attending USC. Nwogu said he enjoyed learning more about the African American history and art displayed at the Weisman.
“It’s particularly powerful for me to be able to see [the art] like a placard that said, ‘Honor King, End Racism,’” Nwogu said. “The company had [much forethought] in order to have thoughts to collect all these and one day display it. Particularly now, where the U.S. is having some sort of reckoning, right now with racial justice and equality, so I think it’s so powerful.”
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