FORT LAUDERDALE — What if legendary figures such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated? What impact would they have had on present society? And how would they look today?
“Un-Murdered,” a mixed-media artistic presentation now on display at the Old Dillard Museum in Fort Lauderdale, could for the first time help answer these questions.
The exhibit combines paintings with poetry to bring back notable images and voices of influential men, women and children who have suffered untimely deaths.
As part of the museum’s 2009 black history theme: “The Quest for Black Citizenship in The Americas,” the exhibit offers an in-depth look at the lives and missions of citizens, famous and unknown, who were instrumental in making their nation stronger, thus impacting the world.
“It’s a different approach that lets you look a little deeper into the person and see what their contribution to society would have been,” said Derek Davis, the museum’s curator. “You always hear about Martin Luther King, but many people don’t think past a few things like celebrations and his I Have a Dream speech. They do not look at some of his plans—not just his dreams—that were presented in his speech. He had other plans in his life.”
Some of those plans and dreams are ideologically brought into fruition by award-winning spoken word artist Heru Ofori-Atta.
In his “Un-Murdered” poems, Heru, 36, a former attorney who gave up the legal arena for “a bigger stage for advocacy,” emulates the voices of historical icons whose ideas, actions and stances inspired him. He brings their unfulfilled legacies to the forefront.
“What I wanted to do, based on my knowledge of these people and how they impacted the world on a social level as well as a spiritual level, I wanted to write poems in their voices, speaking of their history, on their aspirations, as if a grandparent talking to a grandchild giving advice,” Heru said.
With a bachelor of Science degree in Biopsychology (the application of biology to the study of mental processes and behavior) from Tufts University and a law degree from Northeastern University School of Law, the profound reader of biographies urges people to contemplate, imagine and consider the possibilities in their minds of what would have happened if these slain heroes had been allowed to experience old age.
The Ghanaian native has five albums which have won numerous acclaims and awards.
Each poem in the “Un-Murdered’’ series accompanies a portrait painted by visual artist Jolanda “Nzingah Oniwosan” Blanchard, that remembers the victims and allows them to live on.
Through artistic progressive aging, the second-generation Haitian-American captured the unusual images of how each person would appear today.
“I had to do some research on forensic artistry, on how features change as a result of aging, and try to be as accurate as possible. Typically, when you do a portrait you just do an image as something you see right in front of you. In this case, you look at it at face value and then change it in terms of aging, which was quite difficult,” Nzingah said.
In the display, all the victims, including Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, who died at age 54; Cuban revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara who died at 39; former prime minister of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Patrice Emery Lumumba, who was 35, and victims of the war in Darfur, stand un-murdered.
Nzingah, 28, paints, designs jewelry, plays classical piano, and also performs spoken word poems. The Florida native also holds a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology from Florida Atlantic University and currently teaches art to special needs students. She plans to provide outreach programming through her gallery to inspire youth to recognize the artist within themselves.
Through her work in the “Un-Murdered” series, Nzingah said she aims to make the public aware of and to understand how murder affects society, and demonstrates how the premature death of someone can impede society.
“Murder is something we think lightly about at times and in this case, a lot of these people had messages that were brought to the forefront as a result of their death,” said Nzingah. “But could you imagine if Martin Luther King hadn’t died? Instead of Barack Obama, he could’ve been the first black president, but we’ll never know because he was taken prematurely. So, by knocking out their potential, we are limiting our potential.”
Photo by Elzie Fuller III. Nzingah Oniwosan, left, poses with Heru Ofori-Atta, right.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “Un-Murdered’’ exhibit.
WHERE: Old Dillard Museum, 1009 NW 4th St., Fort Lauderdale.
WHEN: Now through June 5. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
COST: Free admission, but the museum does accept donations.
CONTACT: Call 754-322-8828 or log onto www.broward.k12.fl.us/olddillardmuseum/