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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 28, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 26
A festival for everyone - Gay artist Jonathan Green to highlight this year's Gullah Festival
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A festival for everyone - Gay artist Jonathan Green to highlight this year's Gullah Festival

by Tina Gianoulis - Special to the SGN

GULLAH FESTIVAL
LIFE ENRICHMENT BOOKS
July 6


Life Enrichment Books, Seattle's LGBT-friendly African-American bookstore and community center, will host its second annual Gullah Festival on Saturday, July 6, from noon to 9 p.m. at the bookstore (5023 Rainier Ave. S.). This year, along with displays, food booths, music, storytelling, and dance performances, the festival will feature the internationally recognized Gullah artist and Gay activist Jonathan Green. From 1 to 3 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m., Green will speak about the history and cultural traditions of the Gullah people and their influence on his work.

Pride is on all our minds as summer heats up in the Pacific Northwest, and Gay, Lesbian, and Trans celebrations remind us how important it is to maintain a sense of cultural identity and pride in the face of a society that too often misunderstands and demeans us. In this we are deeply connected to every marginalized group whose identity and history has been stolen, misinterpreted, and devalued, and yet has managed to preserve a sense of community and dignity. There is perhaps no group that personifies this struggle more than the Gullah people of the costal marshes and sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia.

Stolen from their homes on Africa's windward coast and forced to labor on early American rice plantations, the ancestors of the Gullah came from countries known for their rich rice harvests. They were specifically chosen for their agricultural expertise by white plantation owners, who typically knew little or nothing about cultivating rice. As the climate of the marshes was inhospitable and bred disease, the owners often lived at a distance and their enslaved workers had little contact with the outside world. In this isolation, African people of many tribes and nations forged a unique culture based on traditional music, dance, basketwork, and a language that blended a number of African languages with 18th-century English.

Despite three centuries of change, Gullah culture still thrives in coastal South Carolina and Georgia, and there are still nearly 250,000 speakers of the Gullah language, a strong symbol of a people's determination to survive. Popular works such as the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess by DuBose Heyward and George and Ira Gershwin, Julie Dash's 1991 film Daughters of the Dust, and the Nickelodeon TV series Gullah Gullah Island show the influence of Gullah on American culture.

GAY AND GULLAH
Jonathan Green was born in the tiny town of Gardens Corner in South Carolina's low country. Growing up surrounded by the rich heritage of his Gullah ancestry, Green received support from his community and especially from the women in his family to explore and develop all the diverse parts of himself. He entered the Art Institute of Chicago intending to study fashion design, but he soon found that painting was his true medium, and that through his art he could help preserve the Gullah culture he loves. Green's paintings, filled with vibrant color and exuberant rhythm, have become some of the best-known representations of traditional Gullah life.

'I embrace and celebrate all that I am,' Green told a Naples (Fla.) News interviewer, 'I embrace being African-American. I embrace being Gay. I embrace being an artist. I embrace being an activist, supporting the community, giving donations and making a stance with my art and what I do. Helping to define culture with my art, educating with my art. I think that's the role, perhaps, of all artists in the community.'

On July 6, we in Seattle will have the opportunity to experience a taste of the Gullah tradition in the form of 'a festival for everyone,' hosted by Life Enrichment Bookstore in Columbia City. For the second year, a dynamic street fair next to the bookstore's Rainier Avenue location will feature vendors and food booths with traditional Gullah dishes, along with free performances of Gullah storytelling, drumming, soul karaoke, and dance. Books and posters of Jonathan Green's art will be available for sale, and attendees will also have the opportunity to meet the artist at afternoon and evening 'presentation/receptions.' Admission to the receptions is $20 in advance or $25 at the door ($35/$40 for both sessions). All outdoor festivities are free.

Tickets are available at the bookstore or through www.brownpapertickets.com/event/400331. Contact Life Enrichment Books at (206) 722-1700 or (206) 650-8791, or visit www.lebseattle.com for more information.

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