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Feb. 6–26: Yusef Lateef, Towards the Unknown

Hampshire College is proud to present an exhibition of drawings by master musician, composer, and artist Yusef Lateef (1920–2013).

Yusef Lateef

Hampshire College is proud to present an exhibition of drawings by master musician, composer, and artist Yusef Lateef (1920–2013). A treasured member of the Pioneer Valley community, Dr. Lateef inspired generations of students as Five College Distinguished Professor of Music and Music Education.

Towards the Unknown will be on display Feb. 6-26 in the Hampshire College Gallery in the Harold F. Johnson Library Center.

On Sunday, Feb. 8, a gallery reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m., with a 6 p.m. musical invocation in resonance with Dr. Lateef’s artworks performed by Adam Rudolph with Alex Marcelo, J.D. Parran, Batya Sobel, and Matt Waugh.

On Thursday, Feb. 26, there will be a panel discussion at Hampshire with Professor John Bracey, Professor Kevin Quashie, Professor Christopher Tinson, and other distinguished colleagues and community members. (Details TBA) Look for updates on the gallery website »

On Monday, Feb. 9 there will be a screening of the film Brother Yusef  in the Jerome Liebling Center Room 120 at 7 PM.

Throughout his lifetime, Dr. Lateef was immersed in creation of “autophysiopsychic music.” He described this as music that comes from one’s physical, mental, and spiritual self or “from the heart.”

As part of this creative continuum, Dr. Lateef made over 100 drawings, which were exhibited for the first time by the Augusta Savage Gallery in New Africa House at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He also created innovative graphic notations and scores in which numbers and shapes organize complex interval-based music. This exhibition includes examples of these notations alongside a selection of drawings on paper created with watercolor, pen, ink, graphite, and glitter.

Working from home, Dr. Lateef drew in the same room where he composed at his piano for more than forty years, surrounded by instruments he collected from across the globe. A virtuosic wind musician and vocalist, Dr. Lateef played the tenor saxophone, flute, oboe, shanai, shofar, argol, sarewa, and taiwan koto. He activated some of this technique in his works by pouring small puddles of ink onto the page and then blowing through a straw to spread the liquid. These fanning pools are interwoven with various marks, lines, squiggles, scratches, and concentric circles. At times, the shapes resemble emerging trees, candelabra, flowers, and clouds. In other instances, amoeba-like clusters boom like the cosmos across the page.

Dr. Lateef’s drawing practice was informed by his lifelong immersion in methods of free playing wherein the “feeling tone” of a singular gesture inspires the next. This call and response unfolds one mark at a time, from first to the last, in a process that could take one or many days before a drawing reached completion. As he was a devout Muslim, his drawings were frequently embedded with references to Allah, The One worthy of worship. Prayer and spiritual beauty are infused throughout his work. In Arabic, the name “Lateef” can be loosely translated as “gentle.” This aptly suited Dr. Lateef, “the gentle giant” for whom creativity was a force that exists in myriad forms.

The title of the exhibition is borrowed from an album, co-released with composer and percussionist Adam Rudolph, with new compositions and recordings by Dr. Lateef. The phrase invokes an essence of his seven-decades long meditation on sonic dimensions and their broader social significances, which he practiced across macro and micro planes, moving always and ever, Towards the Unknown.

A Grammy Award winning composer and virtuosic wind player, Dr. Lateef toured, performed, and recorded worldwide, creating a prolific body of work. As a major force in the international music scene for more then seven decades he was among the first to incorporate Middle Eastern and Asian reed instruments into the African American music tradition.

He recorded more than a hundred albums as a leader and his discography includes recordings for Savoy, Riverside, Prestige, Impulse, and Atlantic as well as an extensive catalogue on his own label, YAL Records. Dr. Lateef frequently invited colleagues and students throughout the Amherst area to record with him.

Through his company, Fana Music, he published books about performance and improvisational methodology, numerous works for chamber ensembles, stage bands, duos and wind ensemble or symphony orchestra, as well as his own plays, science-fiction novels and poetry.

The National Endowment named Yusef Lateef as an American Jazz Master for the Arts in 2010.

Towards the Unknown is organized in collaboration with Africana Studies in honor of Dr. Lateef and in recognition of Black History Month at Hampshire College. It is sponsored in part by Africana Studies, Office of the Dean of Multicultural Education, The Cultural Center, UMOJA, Office of Alumni and Family Relations, The School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, The Music Program, Film, Photo and Video Program, Studio Arts, the Humanities Program, ICP, The School of Interdisciplinary Arts, CASA, CORC, the Center for Feminisms, and the Harold Johnson Library all at Hampshire College; Mount Holyoke Studio Art Department; Amherst College Music Department.

Towards the Unknown is curated by Alhena Katsof and organized with White Columns in New York City.  The exhibition was installed at White Columns from November 8-December 20, 2014.


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