Culture and Community at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District, a partnership between South Carolina’s Penn Center and the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, has named Amiri Geuka Farris as its 2023 artist in residence. Through the residency and its theme of “Land and Justice,” Farris will engage with the history and heritage of Penn Center, located on St. Helena Island, and with its surrounding community in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.
Farris is a Bluffton, SC-based interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured in more than 50 solo exhibitions and juried museum shows nationally and internationally.
“For my Culture & Community residency I plan on creating a body of work focused on Gullah Geechee culture, land conservation, nature, and heirs’ property, which I plan to explore through various media including photography and painting,” he said. “By examining these themes, I hope to create meaningful works that can be shared with the community and exhibited in museums and galleries.”
Farris was appointed to the residency by a committee including members of cultural and artistic organizations connected to Penn Center and led by Deloris Pringle, chair of Penn Center’s Board of Trustees.
“Amiri Geuka Farris’s experience as a preservationist, educator, musical performer, videographer, and cultural curator places his bold and brilliant art at the intersection of people, place, and time,” said Penn board member Tia Powell Harris, vice president for education and community engagement at New York City Center, who served on the selection committee.
“His art is often rooted in the legacy of the Gullah Geechee heritage and his desire to uplift the tenacity of the Gullah people,” Harris said. “We look forward with great anticipation to Amiri’s residency at the historic Penn Center and to the dynamic visual stories that will emerge from his interactions with our supportive staff and board, a welcoming community, and the indomitable spirit of the elders past and present, who have served as stewards of the land.”
The Culture and Community project is funded by a $1 million 2021 grant to the Willson Center by the Mellon Foundation. Barbara McCaskill, professor of English and associate academic director of the Willson Center, and Nicholas Allen, Baldwin Professor in Humanities and director of the Willson Center, are the grant’s principal investigators and serve on the project’s steering committee with Pringle, Valerie Babb, Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Emory University, and interim Penn Center executive director Bernie Wright. Angela Dore, the project’s research coordinator, provides day-to-day oversight of its programs.
The beginning of Farris’s residency launches the partnership’s second year of public programs, which will include two Penn Center Community Conversations and two cohorts of Student Summer Research Residencies: on-site classes and workshops with students and faculty from colleges and universities across the Southeast. The first of 2023’s public conversations, “Penn Center, Land, and Community,” will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 22 in Penn Center’s Frissell Community House. The research residencies, which will take place in May, will include workshops and conversations that Farris will lead with students and other participants.
Penn Center is a nonprofit organization committed to African American education, community development, and social justice. It also serves as a gathering place for meetings, educational institutions, and planning activities within the Sea Island Gullah Geechee communities. It sits on the historic campus of Penn School, founded in 1862 to provide education to African Americans who until then had been enslaved in the Sea Islands region. Following the school’s closure in 1948, the site served as a sanctuary for civil rights organizers in the 1960s, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.