3 Men
Postcard of 3 Saramakan Men

Syncretic Vibrations: Exploring the Mosaic of Blackness through the Melville J. and Frances S. Herskovits Collection is organized by the Schomburg Center’s Teen Curators, a curatorial program for high school students.

Through research, discussion, and creative investigation, this exhibition engages in a call and response with the collection of anthropologists Melville J. and Frances S. Herskovits. The Schomburg's Teen Curators reflected on an odyssey of blackness while questioning: who or what controls how a people are studied, represented, and therefore remembered?

In the title, “Syncretic” refers to the merging of two or more cultures making a new, distinct one, while “Vibrations” alludes to the ripple effect of Africanisms on all cultures. In the collection, students explored research journals and field notes from Suriname in South America and the African Kingdom of Dahomey. They also read excerpts from the book Myth of the Negro Past,  where Melville Herskovits argued against the theory that New World Africans had no past. Teen Curators critically engaged with materials in the Melville J. and Frances S. Herskovits collection from the Schomburg Center's four divisions: Art and Artifacts; Photographs and Prints; Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books; and Moving Image and Recorded Sound.

Syncretic Vibrations also features an array of student-produced works poignantly juxtaposed with artifacts from the Herskovits Collection. Students carved wooden combs, appliqued quilts, and created mixed-media collages. ​Through these works, students convey their own thoughts and opinions about the connection between the African Diasporic present and the African past.

This exhibition took place at the Schomburg Center in the American Negro Theatre from 2018-2019.

Photo: Sarramakan Wooden Comb, Suriname. Melville J. and Frances S. Herskovits Collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library

Reading List



Curators: Schomburg Teen Curators 2018
Aryeh Kalb, Christine Lee, Desiree Sowah, Idaly Hernandez, Jillian Peprah- Frimpong, Joel Vasquez, Jon-i McDaniels, Julian Ested, Justin Garcia, Laila Banks, Lindsey Ruiz, Marquis Carpentier, Nylah Cooper, Oriana Morgan LaMour, Savannah Milton, Tiane Goines, Trécii Cheeseboro, Zora Michelle Danticat

Lead Instructor/Artist: M. Scott Johnson

Instructor: George Davis

Education Coordinator: Zenzele Johnson

Exhibitions Coordinator: Shante ́ Cozier

Graphic Designer: Isissa Komada-John

Senior Publicist: Ayofemi Kirby

Associate Director of Education: Brian Jones

Director of Collections and Information Services: Mary Yearwood

Art and Artifacts Division, Associate Curator: Tammi Lawson

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