SIUE Anthropology showcases Katherine Dunham: A Life of Dance, Activism, and Anthropology

2017 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Performing Arts Training Center (PATC), a unit of SIUE that was founded and directed by the internationally famous Katherine Dunham. In 1936, Dunham received her Bachelor of Philosophy in anthropology after winning a grant and conducting fieldwork in the Caribbean. This began her lifelong unique combination of ethnographic research and its creative application to the dance and music of the African diaspora. “Her ethnographic writing has been praised for foreshadowing the postmodern turn in anthropology due to putting herself at the center of a highly engaging narrative that acknowledged and reflected on how being a black woman affected her experiences in the field and the data she was able to collect.” said Dr. Willmott of the Anthropology Department.

After fifteen years of touring the world performing her original productions, Ms. Dunham accepted a position as artist-in-residence at SIUC, and subsequently settled in East St. Louis, where she launched a second career as educator and activist as an SIUE professor. Her work with SIUE’s Performing Arts Training Center completed her life’s work and earned her a hard won place in academia. From 1983 onwards, Dunham received numerous honorary doctorates and prestigious awards for her achievements.

In honor of Dunham’s contributions to SIUE, East St. Louis and the fields of African dance and music, we are mounting an exhibit in Lovejoy Library between Sept. 21st and Oct. 23rd. Katherine Dunham: A Life of Dance, Activism and Anthropology will be curated by Dr. Cory Willmott and Integrative Studies masters student, Konjit Avent, with help from Erin Vigneau and Mike Whisenhunt of the University Museum, as well as Lydia Jackson and several other members of the Lovejoy Library faculty and staff.

“The goal of our exhibit is to raise awareness of who Miss Dunham is and how she has contributed to SIUE, perhaps as much as an administrator as an educator. In doing so, we also touched on her extraordinary achievements as a professional dancer and her many awards and honorary degrees.” says Willmott. In addition to recapping Dunham’s dance career, this exhibit will tell the story of Dunham’s formative years at the University of Chicago, her role as a museum professional, and her work as a professor at SIUE. There is also several interpretive events associated with the exhibit, including a presentation at the opening event by Theo Jamison; Dunham Master Instructor & Program Director of the East St. Louis PATC, an African drumming event, and a presentation by Eugene Redmond on East St. Louis activism with Katherine Dunham.

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