Elora Tocci | Staff Writer
Terry Adkins is a fine artist. But his pieces aren’t shown in typical art openings — the unveiling of his work usually feels more like a recital.
Adkins combines his sculpture-based installations with music, video and literary elements. He brings these other elements into his work because he doesn’t sculpt purely for himself. He uses his work to draw attention to and uplift the legacies of people who made important contributions to human culture, people like abolitionist John Brown, blues singer Bessie Smith and author Zora Neale Hurston, among others.
“I like for my work to have an impact on the real world, not just the art world,” Adkins said. “I look for ways in which my work can be used as a tool to inform and to have a dynamic impact on the community from which it occurred.”
The subject of Adkins’ current project will be the focus of his lecture at 7 p.m. tonight in the Hultquist Center. He will talk about his recent travels in Alaska and the work he did there on Miy Paluk, a project inspired by arctic explorer Matthew Henson. Henson went on eight voyages to the arctic region with Commander Robert Peary between 1891 and 1909. He and Peary were the first people to set sail in the North Pole, but Henson, a black man, did not receive recognition for his work until years later.
Henson eventually was awarded the same medal as Peary and now is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
“Justice was done in the end, but it was due to the efforts of others,” Adkins said.
The title of the project translates to the “the kind one” in Inuktitut, which is the name the Inuit people bestowed upon Henson while he was exploring the Arctic. Henson diligently spent time learning the customs and culture of the indigenous Arctic people, winning him their respect. Adkins will talk a bit about that culture in his lecture.
“It’s a cool topic for such a hot bout of weather on the East Coast,” he said. “Hopefully, talk of the Arctic region and the North Pole will cool people off.”
In addition to his own art, Adkins teaches fine art at the University of Pennsylvania. He said he likes staying tuned in to what young people are doing and how they’re thinking about art. But besides the mechanics and theories of artistic expression, Adkins said he wants his students to leave his classroom with an unyielding commitment to their craft.
“To pursue a vocation in art or to have a calling in art is a serious matter,” he said. “It calls for dedication and sacrifice.”