New outdoor furniture, based on African Adinkra symbols that represent universal concepts such as nurturance, endurance, loyalty and authority, is the latest addition to the Brazos Valley African American Museum. The furniture was created by art and design students at Prairie View A&M in a partnership with the Texas A&M College of Architecture.
They aren’t “hands-off” museum pieces: it’s functioning furniture with benches and tables made from high-density foam, wood, recycled metal and other materials. There’s even a game board with checkers that feature prominent African Americans such as Maya Angelou, Cicely Tyson, Jackie Robinson and President Barack Obama.
"Some pieces are created from repurposed oil drums, which dip into the history of Black Texans and the oil industry," said Johnson, assistant professor of the practice in art at Prairie View A&M, who led her university’s project contributions. "Each piece has historical significance."
The effort, called The Sankofa Project, began when Johnson was approached by Laurie Lisonbee, instructional assistant professor of visualization at the College of Architecture, about the project after Johnson curated “She Matters,” a 2019 exhibit at the college’s Wright Gallery. Lisonbee is also a member of the gallery’s curatorial committee.
In her African American art class at Prairie View A&M, Johnson introduces Adinkra symbols, which originated in present-day Ghana. She led a team of student designers who created the unique furniture pieces inspired by and featuring the symbols.
"I had a blast during this whole process," said Alexis Adjorlolo, a senior architecture student at Prairie View A&M. "Conceptualizing and designing something really unique that is meant to be used enjoyed by the public ... it was great."
The students’ designs were fabricated at the College of Architecture’s Automated Fabrication & Design Lab, then brought to the museum.
Plans are underway to collect data on how the furniture is used to create additional pieces to add to the museum’s permanent collection.
During a May 7, 2021 opening ceremony at the museum where representatives from all of the project’s partners gathered, College of Architecture dean Jorge Vanegas said the collection has "incredible heart" and should be celebrated.
"This is a constant reminder that through art, we can change people. Through art, we can change communities," he said.
The furniture is part of the permanent collection of the museum, 500 Pruitt St. in Bryan.
Funded by a Texas A&M Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts Enhancement Grant, the project is an ongoing collaboration between the Texas A&M College of Architecture, the Prairie View A&M School of Architecture, and the museum.