sista-idya-cultural-couture_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE – When creating works of art, many talented artists combine their natural environment with certain aspects of humanity such as the heart, the eye, the hands and feet, to create outstanding expressions of art.

Inspired by one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, Kuumba, which is a Swahili word for creativity, the Old Dillard Museum is proudly showcasing the creativity of three local women who paint, sculpt, and perform.

“The talents of the three women in “The Quest for Kuumba” exhibit are beautiful examples of why fostering creativity is a vital part of a well-balanced community,” Old Dillard Museum Curator Derek Davis wrote in an email to the South Florida Times.

Without creativity, Davis asked, how could a self-defined “nerd” like Nzingah find the wherewithal to pursue her dream of becoming a psychobiologist? How would an adult like Denise
Collins discover that she has a talent that she didn’t even know she possessed? Or how should a cancer survivor like Idya deal with the wide range of emotions that she faces to stay alive?

Jolanda “Nzingah Oniwosa” Blanchard, 27, paints, designs jewelry, plays classical piano, and performs spoken-word poems. Always looking to create something new, the second-generation Haitian-American said her search for Kuumba is constant.

“In my journey as an artist, my quest for Kuumba has definitely been parallel with my quest for identity. For me, the exhibit was the perfect opportunity because my vision is to supply a feed of imagery that will change the way someone thinks or spark a thought,” said Blanchard, of Fort Lauderdale.

Each of Blanchard’s pieces in the exhibit shows the intriguing faces of black people, mostly children, painted in pastel on black paper, and labeled with an African proverb. Blanchard said her works were part of a series inspired by African proverbs through which she aims to reconnect African Americans. Her emphasis is on creating beautiful images of black people, she said, because the news and TV do not portray positive images of African Americans.

The self-described nerd who holds a bachelor’s degree from Florida Atlantic University in psychobiology (the application of biology to the study of mental processes and behavior), currently teaches art to special needs children and intends to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience. She also wants to do research showing that all art forms can be combined and used as healing and learning tools.

Also in the display are the images of  Denise Collins, 61, who began her craft at a ceramics adult education class in high school in the late 1980s. Encouraged to sculpt by her late cousin, Edith Humphreys, for the past nine years, Collins has continued her art and has been inspired by working with clay.

“When I first started out I did realistic images, but because I wasn’t an expert in anatomy it was a little difficult,” said Collins, of Tamarac.

That’s when her father, renowned artist Charles Mills, stepped in with a suggestion: Make it as simple as possible.

Heeding his advice, Collins focuses on abstract pieces made with terra-cotta clay and finishes with shoe polish or sandstone. She concentrates on small pieces of the human body, portraying motion and fluidity with figures devoid of detailed facial expressions.

“Creativity is giving back to the community and enhancing it in a sense of beauty. I think that’s what artwork does when it’s presented,” said Collins, who shares a studio at the Tarpon River Art Center with her father, who currently has an exhibit at the Broward County Main Library.

The ethnocentric artworks of Kim “Sista Idya” Harris, 46, displayed at the “Quest for Kuumba” exhibit are a testament to her recovery. In 2005, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and, over the next year, as the disease progressed, depression took root as her strategy to eat only raw fruits and vegetables failed. She then reconnected with her artistic passion, and survived the life-threatening disease.

“I used my art as an outlet to keep my mind focused, so my quest for Kuumba is the same as my quest for life. The art gave me a chance to get reacquainted with myself,” Harris told the South Florida Times.

Harris said her original plan was to make jewelry, and she chose metalsmith as her college major at the Philadelphia College of Art. Today, Harris focuses on visual images, and uses a mixed-media collage of African-print fabrics, cowry shells, adinkra symbols, mirrors and sequins.

The breast cancer survivor enjoys life by painting and telling traditional African tales and stories. She places more value on people, and feels empowered to take on life’s challenges. A guidance counselor by day, the mother of four is currently working on her Education Specialist certification with a focus in curriculum instruction with arts integration.

“I’m an arts advocate and I feel as though all the things that I see with students such as behavior problems could be alleviated if arts were in the curriculum,” said Harris, of Lauderhill.

Photo by Khary Bruyning. “Cultural Couture” by artist Sista Idya


WHAT: “The Quest for Kuumba’’ art exhibit.

WHERE: Old Dillard Museum, 1009 NW 4th St., Fort Lauderdale.

WHEN: Now through Jan. 23, 2009. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

COST: Free.

CONTACT: For more information, call the museum at 754-322-8828, or log onto