Black History Month 2023

Black History Month

Divine Hands: An Exploration of Black Spirituality, Healing, and the Arts

Black History Month is a time when communities across the nation come together to celebrate the achievements of and by Black Americans and recognize the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. Black History Month started as “Negro History Week,” in 1926, conceived by Carter G. Woodson, an influential African American historian, educator, and scholar. In 1976, it became a month-long national observance. February was selected as the official month to include the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

This year our theme is “Divine Hands: An Exploration of Black Spirituality, Healing, and the Arts.” Join us in a contemplative exploration of the interplay between wellness and spirituality, embracing the expressive arts as a powerful conduit. During this month we will delve into various aspects of Black spirituality and the vibrant cultures of the African diaspora. invite reflection and engagement on themes around the intersection of wellness and spirituality, as well as the expressive arts. Together, let’s celebrate the fullness, creativity, and spirit of Black history and heritage.

Join the campus community centers for a captivating journey through African cosmology, symbols, healing practices, and artistic mediums. Meet our keynote speakers Mikael Owunna (Nigerian American multimedia artist, filmmaker, engineer) and Marquita Sams (choreographer, dancer, filmmaker, painter, social worker, and spiritual healer) as we spotlight their research and artistry for this year’s Black History Month celebration.

Mikael Owunna is a Nigerian American multimedia artist, filmmaker, engineer, and the President of the City of Pittsburgh’s Public Art and Civic Design Commission. He is also the Co-founder and Executive Director of Rainbow Serpent, a Black LGBTQ art nonprofit organization. Exploring the intersections of technology, art, and African cosmologies, his work seeks to elucidate an emancipatory vision of possibility that revives traditional African knowledge systems and pushes people beyond all boundaries, restrictions, and frontiers.
Owunna’s work has been exhibited across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America and has been collected by institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Nasher Museum of Art; Middlebury College Museum of Art; Equal Justice Initiative; Duke University Pratt School of Engineering; University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; and Mississippi Delta Health Center. His work has also been featured in media ranging from the New York Times to CNN, NPR, VICE, and The Guardian. He has lectured at venues including Harvard Law School, World Press Photo (Netherlands), Tate Modern (UK), and TEDx. Owunna has published two monographs: “Limitless Africans” (FotoEvidence, 2019) and “Cosmologies” (ClampArt, 2021). Owunna’s multimedia practice includes film and live performance, in 2021 he directed the dance film “Obi Mbu (The Primordial House)” with Marques Redd, and in 2023 he premiered the multimedia live performance “The Four World Ages” with the Rainbow Serpent Collective. Owunna’s work has been commissioned for major public art installations by organizations including the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Foundation, Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh, Pittsburgh International Airport, and Orange Barrel Media.

Marquita Sams is a mother, wife, choreographer, dancer, filmmaker, painter, social worker, and spiritual healer whose work is based in Afro-diasporic knowledge systems from a variety of cultures (including ancient Egypt, Nigeria, the Sea Islands, and Haiti). Through her multi-disciplinary practice, she strives to be a conduit for the power of African cosmologies.
Sams was the Producer and Movement Consultant for Obi Mbu (The Primordial House) (2021), a 30-minute film that presents a choreographed dance performance exploring the movement of Black dancers illuminated with ultraviolet light as they reenact an Igbo myth of creation. She has also created other short dance films that explore sites important to Black history in the South.
In 2006, Sams received a BA in African and African-American Studies and Dance from Washington University in St. Louis. In 2013, she received a Masters of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she focused on the spiritual and cultural significance of the dance of the African diaspora. In 2022, Sams received a Master of Social Work from Delaware State University, where she focused on the intersection between spirituality and somatic psychotherapy. Sams is currently practicing as a mental health therapist. She has performed with dance companies all over the country including Philadanco (Philadelphia), The Slaughter Project (St. Louis), Project Motion (Memphis), Ko-Thi Dance Company (Milwaukee), Wild Space Dance Company (Milwaukee), and Hayiya Dance Theatre (Macon), and she has choreographed and performed solo work at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Drucker Center in Chicago, the Kenilworth Arts Studios in Milwaukee, and the Tubman Museum in Macon. She has also choreographed pieces for full company performances, lectured in university dance history classes, taught dance classes and workshops to elementary school students, and led movement and meditation classes and self-care retreats for adults.

Calendar of Events