MUSC celebrates 200 years through art inspired by Bicentennial guiding principles

January 16, 2024
A man stands with his arms crossed, smiling in front of a painting.
Bluffton-based artist Amiri Geuka Farris pictured with one of his art pieces. He created “Bicentennial Heirloom” as part of the MUSC Bicentennial Art Collection. Photo by Brennan Wesley

Tapping into the power of art to spark emotion, prompt reflection and turn pain into healing, MUSC will proudly showcase its Bicentennial Art Collection online and at the MUSC Charleston campus throughout 2024.

The collection offers a tangible public display of the vital principles MUSC aspires to embody: a commitment to the importance of honoring history and truth, a firm dedication to the values of diversity and inclusion in all facets of the enterprise, a promise to tackle problems through innovation and excellence, and a vision of a higher calling through the ideals of creativity and inspiration.

“As MUSC celebrates its bicentennial year through celebrations of scientific research, clinical gains, innovative problem-solving and excellence in education, it remains vital to connect to the human spirit that binds us all together,” said Katie Hinson Sullivan, founder of the MUSC Arts in Healing program. “Having this collection to view on-site and also online allows us all to feel this connection and be inspired to hold steady through both challenges and triumphs.”

Bluffton-based artist Amiri Geuka Farris kicks off the exhibit with his piece “Bicentennial Heirloom,” a collaborative painting and collage that he created with patients, staff and families at the MUSC University Hospital in Charleston to evoke the first guiding principle: an appreciation of history and truth.

The artwork features a woman reading a book created from vintage documents collected from the MUSC James W. Colbert Education Center and Library and other University collections. Farris used this imagery to connect the old with the new and to affirm the power of literacy and understanding the truth of history to guide our next steps forward.

As a descendant of the Gullah-Geechee people, Farris frequently uses African symbols called Adinkra symbols in his work. One in particular, Sankofa, literally means “Go back and get it!” But its deeper meaning compels one to remember and honor the past to move forward into the future.

His contribution to the Bicentennial Art Collection embodies this injunction and serves as a reminder to use a grounded understanding of the past in order to leap forward.

Furthermore, Farris is a strong proponent of the value of public art to draw people together and foster pride in communities.

“I do a lot of community action painting,” said Farris. “This forms a collaborative effort where people come together and work on a painting in a public space, and I find that people take great ownership if they actually worked on it or saw me create it right there.”

Farris received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design, but he showed his amazing skill from a young age. Recognizing his abilities, his parents enrolled him in adult-level art classes starting from the age of 6, and he kept up with the adults or even eclipsed them without missing a beat.

During and after his education in Savannah, he became deeply involved in organizations like the Penn Center, the first school in the South for formerly enslaved West Africans. And he learned more about his Gullah-Geechee ancestors and was christened into the community.

“Being a Gullah-Geechee descendant is an honor and a legacy,” he said. “It’s very important for me to carry on the traditions and stories passed down from the elders by using my visual arts.”

Farris is currently the artist in residence at the Penn Center and a professor at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, where he teaches studio and fine arts. His murals and public art can be seen in locations throughout the Lowcountry, and his work has been featured in more than 50 exhibitions both nationally and internationally.

His art combines vivid colors and dramatic textures created by techniques like collage, drip painting and layering. He often uses imagery evocative of barrier island and Gullah-Geechee culture, but he also enjoys blurring the boundaries between traditional and contemporary art.

In addition to the work of Farris, two other local artists will be featured: Natalie Daise and Lisa Willits. Daise, who hails from Georgetown, describes herself as a professional storyteller and self-taught artist, exploring the continuum of storytelling through artmaking. “The process of playing with and discovering what my hands and the materials will do is my spiritual practice and, as such, rises from an intensely personal place.” Much of her work, she said, explores the rich traditions of the African American and Gullah-Geechee communities that nurture her creativity.

Willits has lived in the Lowcountry for more than 30 years. She explained that she is most inspired by the natural beauty of the South Carolina coast and aims to capture its enchanting atmosphere. “My paintings explore the things about the landscape that fascinate me: the colors and glow of early morning or evening skies, the incredible cloud formations here on the coast, the ever-changing seascapes forever. Paintings with a strong sense of atmosphere have always attracted me, and I like to emphasize that quality in my artwork as well. I feel very fortunate to live in such beautiful surroundings and I want to share that feeling with my collectors.”

Additionally, winners of the enterprisewide art contest will be announced this spring. All employees and students were invited to participate in the Bicentennial art contest, which offered an exciting opportunity for the enterprise community to celebrate creativity and honor our two centuries of excellence.

By showcasing the winning artwork on campus, we not only embrace the talent within our community but also immortalize the essence of our journey in a visual masterpiece. This contest bridges the past, present and future, weaving together artistic expression and historical significance, fostering a legacy that will resonate across generations on our campus.

The MUSC Bicentennial Art Collection will include a meaningful piece of artwork from each of the four artists, representing all of the guiding principles. The collection can be seen online on the Bicentennial website and in person at the MUSC James W. Colbert Education Center and Library on the Charleston campus.

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