RISD Views, May/June 1995 Vol. 7, n. 4

"The arts offer excellent tools with which to deconstruct stereotypes," says Ellie Schimelman '60, a potter in Brookline, MA, who has a strong affinity for African culture. "Each of us must try in our own way to change any misconceptions we may hold about people of other cultures and to learn to celebrate their offerings." Since 1978 Schimelman has been traveling to Ghana, West Africa, to study the indigenous arts and crafts, to work with local artisans and to in turn teach them American artistic techniques. She has also imported and sold Ghanaian arts and crafts in order to return the profits to African artists as a means of encouraging them to continue their work. The former. art teacher has taught cultural awareness workshops in the Boston area and introduced numerous American travelers to the richness of African culture. Now, she plans to launch an ambitious project that will enable American artists to live and work in Ghana for brief periods of time. Called the Aba Project (which means "female born on Tuesday" in the Akan language), the goal is to construct a small compound of buildings on land Schimelman owns jointly with a Ghanaian artist on the southern coast of Ghana, about 20 minutes from the capital of Accra. Using vernacular African architecture and indigenous materials she-plans to build structures with modern conveniences such as plumbing and electricity that provide studio and living space for up to 10 visiting artists. 'The clay buildings will shelter programs that ignite creative fires on both sides of the ocean," she says. "Much like the African concept of the extended family, I see this project as all-inclusive and am particularly interested in working with artists who find cultural exchange a stimulating artistic concept.' Schimelman plans to begin building the Aba compound next winter. At the same time, she is encouraging cultural exchange between American and Ghanaian artists by leading a group of Americans to the Dagbe Cultural Centre in Ghana to study the art of Kente cloth production with a master weaver. "Stevie Wonder is moving to Ghana because he feels more creative there," Schimelman says. " Maybe he and I know something that the rest of you should find out about." --- Back