Herald-Whig

Closing reception highlights Hannibal Black History Month exhibit

W. T. Johnson and Paula Holliday share a moment during the closing reception of “A Never-Told Story in Art, History and Music” at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Hannibal, Mo., on Friday, Mar. 15, 2019. Jim’s Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center curated the exhibit. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 15, 2019 10:50 pm Updated: Mar. 15, 2019 11:07 pm

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Najjar Abdul-Musawwir provided a brief history of the banjo Friday night as he provided an explanation of work from his Banjo Series.

"It was created by Africans who were put into slavery who actually made the three-string instrument called the banjo," Abdul-Musawwir said. "It was created with three strings -- horse hair -- any wood they could get their hands on and a piece of animal skin."

A professor of studio arts and art history at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Abdul-Musawwir said right before slavery was abolished a group of businessmen decided to market five-string banjos, claiming they made it "more sophisticated."

"So long story short, when it was time to go north, the African banjo was considered crude and unelevated," he said.

Abdul-Musawwir was one of the artists featured at the closing reception for Black History Month on Friday evening at Hannibal-LaGrange University.

The Hagerman Art Gallery inside the Roland Fine Arts Center hosted the history and art exhibit "A Never-Told Story in Art, History and Music" during Black History Month. It featured vintage photos of life for black people in Hannibal, as well as works from area artists.

The reception also included a performance by Hannibal native Paul Griggsby, a classical bass-baritone singer and concert pianist.

Michael Chlebanowski, director of the gallery, said he remembered seeing parts of the Civil Rights Movement on TV as a child but not understanding the significance.

"As I grew up, I began to understand the need and necessity, especially as God's children, to join together in love and unity of one another," Chlebanowski said. "I think it's important that we had this exhibit to really promote this idea of diversity and understanding."

Faye Dant, executive director of Jim's Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center, said the exhibit was divided into two parts, with the first part "The Invisibles Illustrated" displaying photographs of what the African-American community was like in Hannibal before the Civil Rights Movement.

"I refer to it sometimes as a ‘parallel universe.' It will give you a sense of what that was like," Dant said. "The second part of the exhibit ‘A Never Told Story' includes regional artists that I've been very fortunate to be able to recruit and build relationships with."

Dant believes another exhibit will be planned for next year.