African Griot Story Guardians at the Cecil B. Moore Library

Jan 15th - Jan 31st, 2022

A story has a life cycle of living, telling, then remembering. According to artist  Jihan Thomas, “This library is situated in a very historical avenue for African Americans. The stories and memories that I have heard from neighbors in the area are all of pride, legacy, and resistance. From the activism of Cecil B More, Sonia Sanchez, Reverend Leon Sullivan, Tammi Terrel, UNIA, the Philadelphia Black Panther Party, and Dox Thrash to all the other families that live in the area that contribute to the living history happening now." 

In order to encapsulate the importance of protecting the story of a community, Thomas hearkened back to the West African tradition of trusting and entrusting the oral historian to preserve its memories. The Griot, a symbolic guardian figure who represents historians, storytellers, praise singers, poets, and musicians represents, in this installation, the community members and their stories. During five pop-up workshops in the spring and summer of 2021, neighbors came together to make their own Griot figures. Just as stories are entrusted to the storyteller, Jihan was then entrusted with each Griot created by a community member as she decorated them with extra embellishments that honor their creator’s specific story. Through listening and collaboratively creating, Jihan reveals how knowledge, wisdom, and education are embodied in living people. Experience the Griots at the Cecil B. Moore Library and be inspired to tell and protect your own story.

As part of new literacy programming (Clay, Play, Read) funded by the William Penn Foundation, The Clay Studio was given the opportunity to work with artists to create Art Installations at the Cecil B. Moore and Kensington branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia to extend the literacy learning for years to come in creative and playful ways. KABOOM! generously gave additional support to these projects through their Playful Learning Landscapes program. Learn more about the Art Installations HERE.