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Saturday, March 21, 2020

In a Speculative Light - UTK Symposium on Beauford and Baldwin

"In a Speculative Light" was a powerful and enlightening symposium that explored how the relationship between Beauford and his dearest friend, James Baldwin, shaped their artistic creations and influenced 20th-century arts. Hosted by the University of Tennessee Humanities Center, and funded in part with a Collaborative Research Grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, it brought together scholars from the domains of visual arts, musicology, and literary studies to address this previously unexplored question. Professor Amy Elias, Director of the UTK Humanities Center, organized the entire event.

The symposium opened on February 19 with "An Evening Celebrating James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney" that featured a keynote presentation by award-winning author Hilton Als.

UTK Humanities Center Director Amy Elias and
Keynote Speaker Hilton Als
Image courtesy of Professor Amy Elias

The event was held at the Knoxville Museum of Art, where the current exhibition, Through the Unusual Door, also focuses on the relationship between Beauford and Baldwin. Als' presentation was entitled "The Mentor: James Baldwin, Beauford Delaney, and the Habit of Doing."

This was followed by two full days of on-campus presentations in six research domains: arts history and Black aesthetics, music and sonic arts, ethics and social values, style and form, gender and sexuality, and biography and legacies.

NYU professor Fred Moten gave his keynote presentation at the end of the first day. His topic was "Blue(s) as Cymbal: Beauford Delaney (Elvin Jones) James Baldwin”; he explored representations of blackness through Beauford's art, Baldwin's writing, and Jones' theory of music.

Keynote speaker Fred Moten
Image courtesy of Professor Amy Elias

A total of 26 speakers presented papers during the symposium. Beauford's biographer, David Leeming, was among them. To see the list of presenters (excluding Hilton Als) and topics, click HERE.

Speakers Magdalena Zaborowska (with microphone)
and Beauford Delaney biographer, David A. Leeming
Image courtesy of Professor Amy Elias

To see the list of presenters and topics (excluding Hilton Als), click HERE.

On Friday, February 21, a private session was held during lunch at the Frieson Black Cultural Center on the UT campus. Tanisha L. Jenkins, Director of UT Multicultural Student Life, welcomed participants and attendees. Presentations were given by Sylvia Peters, Director of The Delaney Project; Monique Y. Wells, President of Les Amis de Beauford Delaney, and Reneé Kesler, President and CEO of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

Presenter Monique Y. Wells on screen
at luncheon conference
Image courtesy of Professor Amy Elias

A unique and inspired project associated with the symposium was a pop-up portrait studio project through which four artists created portraits of several of the symposium speakers, including Fred Moten and David Leeming. The artists were Jered Sprecher, Joshua Bienko, Rubens Ghenov, and Mary Laube, all of whom work at UTK. Participants sat with artists for 60- to 90-minute portrait sessions during the run of the symposium in a dedicated space at the UT Student Union. The sessions were open to the public.

Pop-up Portrait Center
Image courtesy of Professor Amy Elias

Also on campus, Derek Spratley, Esq., the executor of the Beauford Delaney estate, presented a showing of Beauford’s paintings at the Student Union Art Gallery. The Paris Years: Paintings by Beauford Delaney from the Artist’s Estate gave the public and UT students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to see original Delaney artwork that was made available for purchase after the close of the exhibition.

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