Lonny Graham Exhibition at Abington Art Center

Top Quote Photographer Lonny Graham unveils his latest works at Abington Art Center in Jenkintown, PA. End Quote
  • Philadelphia, PA-NJ (1888PressRelease) September 12, 2012 - Abington Art Center opens a new work by Lonnie Graham entitled "Six Big Diamonds" on September 8, 2012. Funded by a National Endowment for the Arts grant, this new work showcases the artists commitment to giving a voice to poor communities and people.

    Inspired by an "out of the mouth of babes" moment with his daughter, artist Lonnie Graham has embarked on a multi-faceted project entitled, Six Big Diamonds.

    The concept of the project is to raise awareness around issues surrounding impoverished communities, created as a direct result of industrialization by outside interests. Like the diamond industry in Africa referenced in its title, each year billions of dollars worth of wealth is extracted with little or nothing paid to the individuals that occupy those lands. Graham's intention is to help the community members of these areas to establish a renewable and sustainable resource from which community members might draw sustenance. The artist seeks to return a symbolic fraction of these resources to the community such as establishing libraries, wells for clean water, basic housing, and the enrichment of educational facilities.

    Six communities around the world will be selected and each community will be endowed with the cash equivalent of one raw diamond.

    For the first community, Graham has chosen Wote, Kenya a once thriving cotton-producing region, a day's drive outside Nairobi. Since the 1990s, economic forces of wealthier countries have made the price of cotton artificially low, collapsing the local market and causing the loss of large industrial farms and jobs. In their wake, degraded land was left. Funds from the partnership with Abington Art Center are being used to establish a community chest or micro-lending program from which local farmers may draw funds to purchase seeds, or processing equipment needed to jumpstart the local economy. Graham, a professor of fine art at Penn State University is working with local farmers to establish the Neem tree as a viable method of fertilizing and sustaining an organic heirloom cotton crop. Graham is also providing funds to bolster the cultivation of organic dyes used to process the cotton into yarn suitable for sale. Professor Graham is partnering with Mari-Fiki an organization that is embedded in the Kenyan community to facilitate cultivation of this project.

    At Abington Art Center's site in Jenkintown, Professor Graham has set up a place to connect the efforts of the Wote community with our own. Outside the small 1836 meetinghouse in the Center's Sculpture Park, a cycle of imagery from the Wote area. The images consist of traditional large format 4"x 5" portraits of the Kenyan community members as well as images of Wote and its environs. Nearby, a symbolic sister garden has been established with three small plots growing cotton, Neem trees, plants for dyeing, herbs and vegetables-representing the artist's desire to always address the mind, body and spirit. Mirroring the efforts of their counterparts in Kenya, these plots are being generously maintained by local gardeners in an effort of goodwill and desire to share the experience of a successful crop. In the fall of 2011, workshops will be organized conducted by members of Mari-Fiki in organic vegetable dying, knitting, and cotton spinning-skills being rediscovered in both Jenkintown and Wote through a lifeline of artistic endeavor.

    Believing that art should contribute to the community, Lonnie Graham has worked as an artist and social activist for over three decades. Traveling the globe, capturing images with his camera and creating spaces for people to come together and exchange ideas, Graham's art has been to capture the human experience.

    Lonnie was the Director of Photography at Manchester Craftsman's Guild where he taught photography to Pittsburgh high school students. Since 1980, he has traveled throughout Asia, Africa, and North America interviewing people and recording their opinions and beliefs regarding their culture, heritage and traditions. In 1994, he was awarded with a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the PEW Travel grant.

    This project is being supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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