By Rhea Riley
Amongst the busy weekend traffic on 27th street, a powerful speech by author and public speaker Murphy OmniEssence—accompanied by the sounds of drums—filled the neighborhood. A small crowd gathered to watch young African American youth perform traditional African song and dance amid puffs of colored smoke commencing the opening ceremony of the first Spirit of Wakanda Festival.
The Spirit of Wakanda Festival was held last Saturday on Oct. 6. The festival is the first community event presented by Near West Side Partners, Inc. (NWSP) that is solely targeted towards encouraging and celebrating African culture. NWSP is a non-profit organization that focuses on empowering and sustaining healthy businesses and residency throughout Milwaukee’s near west side area.
With additional funding and support from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Reasons for Hope Grant, NWSP produced the free event to also encourage an interest in African art for growing generations.
“The population demographic breakdown is probably about 65-70 percent African American,” said Safety and Community Outreach Specialist, Bobby McQuay. “For us to have such a high population, we really don’t have many outlets to feature our art.”
McQuay attributed the positive reaction to this year’s marvel franchise film, Black Panther as inspiration for the local event. “I think what attracted people was the high level of thought, the culture that seemed to be advanced and we wanted to capitalize off of that spirit,” said McQuay.
After the opening ceremony guests were invited to Mobile Design Box located at 753 N. 27th St., where the festival featured arts and crafts by Artists Working in Education (A.W.E), along with several vibrant and captivating performances by local African dance and drumming group O.N.F.Y.A.H (Our Nations For Youth Arts & Healing).
Once inside, guests had access to refreshments, local vendors, music by Core DJ Sherman, additional drum and dance performances and a visual art gallery.
The gallery showcased various African inspired art from local artists such as Ken Brown, Nubian Star, Ammar Nsoroma, Sonji Hunt, William Muhammad, Mutope Johnson, Darron Reed, Jeffery Brown, T. Ruth Shank and Rachael Thompson.
“I enjoyed working with the artists [and] working with the community to make this happen,” said Muneer Badhauddeen visual arts curator for the festival. “This is fun.”
The gallery featured artwork ranging from Afrocentric female portraits by Nubian Star to acrylic and cloth infused paintings inspired by African folklore by Nsoroma. Among the many paintings was a mural that captured Wakanda created by Brown. Brown had several paintings in the gallery—one being a mural of each character from the Black Panther movie created specifically for the event.
“It resonates because first of all the movie itself, its more than a movie it is a movement. It is an amazing connection and collaboration of artists and writers and filmmakers, cinematographers and then us as the audience,” Brown said of the influence of the film on his latest artwork. “To embrace such a powerful movie, and to be a part of that, to me, is extremely humbling and I’m very, very grateful for that.”
Guests who arrived later left with free commemorative glasses imprinted with the Spirit of Wakanda Marketing. The festival was held for only one day this year, but McQuay hopes to make it an annual event.
“What we hope to come out of this is a deeper community engagement and involvement, and we hope that this grows to be bigger and have more artists that live in the near west side area,” said McQuay. “We want it to become an anchor that people look forward to coming to every year.”
To learn more about Near West Side Partners, Inc. and their upcoming community events visit http://www.nearwestsidemke.org
This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Courier.