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Art Professor Leaves Tanzania Touched By Sights, Sounds, Smells

Published: September 08, 2010
The first thing Kendra Frorup noticed upon arriving in Tanzania was the stark contrast of dusty and dry winter landscape against the bold and vibrant colors of the fabrics draping the people.

Next was the smell of burning bush from local farms. Then were the sounds – rhythmic conversations in English and Swahili, almost like singing, in the busy city streets.

“It was so amazing,” Frorup said. “I’m definitely going back.”

Frorup ’92, an assistant professor of art, spent three weeks this summer studying south of the equator on the African continent. Frorup, the recipient of a 2010 David Delo Research grant, was one of three artists staying at the Warm Heart Art non-governmental organization, including Barbara Stubbs ’08. Frorup studied paper making, the local Masai culture and the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life.

“I have always been interested in the influences of culture on expression,” said Frorup who grew up in the Bahamas. “This was a chance for me to renew old ideas and to have a cultural exchange to compare, learn new technologies and experiment a little bit. Sometimes you get comfortable in what you do, and I wanted to challenge myself.”

Frorup explored papermaking using local materials – mulberry and fig tree bark, banana leaves, cotton fibers from mills and old clothes, corn husks and okra.

“I experimented with imbedding beads and went to a junkyard to get discarded materials like wire, which I connected to the paper,” said Frorup who’d like to offer papermaking as part of her advanced sculpture class at UT.

The UT artist was struck by the carts she saw in the streets. Stacked up to an inconceivable level, the carts were a source of inspiration for Frorup, as was the use of recycled goods, from metal oil drums turned into cooking utensils to the way the Masai tribe efficiently constructed their huts.

“A lot of my work is on stacking and layering,” she said. “They really maximized the load in those carts and are very resourceful people. I was fascinated by how they arranged things and didn’t waste space. I’ll make an attempt to use that in my work here.”

Frorup is organizing a presentation for Black History Month at UT and will show some of her work this month at the Liverpool Biennial in London, the U.K.’s largest festival of contemporary visual art. While this Tanzanian experience has had an impact on Frorup’s art, she said it has also affected her as an individual.

“It was life-changing,” she said.

Frorup discovered similarities between African culture and her Bahamian heritage. The experience also pushed her to examine the excess many Americans live with and to start considering what is really necessary.

“It made me think about what we take for granted,” Frorup said. “This experience has given me the beginning of an understanding of where I’m from. I have to go back there. There is so much more I want to do.”

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer