Ten Questions for Chairs of Inclusion lead artist Mansa Mussa

West Orange, NJ, artist Mansa Mussa has worked with WAE Center artists before. Here he talks about how the “WAE of the Zen” Chair came together through the power of collaboration and inclusion.

  1. What is your education and background as an artist?
    I earned a BA in Media Arts/Television Production at New Jersey City University. I studied visual art with Professor Emeritus Ben Jones at NJCU, and traditional West African dance with Rhonda C. Morman at NJCU. I’ve worked professionally in the fields of dance, percussion, collage, photography, mixed media, graphic design, shadow boxes, iPadology, and installations.

2.  What inspires you?
My daughter, Abeni Adura Mussa, my greatest work of art, and the work of artists around the world, particularly the work of Cuban artists, inspire me.  In addition, my teachers, students, people that I have known for many years, and people I meet every day inspire me.

3. How would you describe your artistic style and your process?
I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and my life has been shaped by the city’s fiery cauldron of art, politics, personalities, music, dance, and fashion. My creative process always includes drawing and is about power and healing.  It’s about power because art and teaching art can be used as instruments for change.  It’s about healing because the act of creating art can be a form of enlightenment for the artist, the student, and the viewer.

4.  What initially inspired your Chair concept?
I was initially inspired by bags that I have made which utilize quilting techniques and have included photography, painting, fabric, leather, and three-dimensional objects. A black and white photograph from the 1940’s of my mother, the late Rose Lee Henry Terry, sitting in a chair also inspired the concept.

5.  What was your experience working at the WAE Center on your Chair?
During three months of creative activity, I had the privilege of bringing this idea to fruition with a dynamic team of WAE artists: Louis, Jay, Carrie, and Jo Mary. The process was a collaborative effort between the four fabulous artists and myself.  My partnership at the WAE Center on the Chairs of Inclusion Project has helped me to discover another teaching technique: “The WAE of the Zen”, which is the title we decided to give our chair. Each one of the artists at this table used their unique talents to lift the cloak of disability and reveal the power of collaboration, the power of making art, and the power of making magic.

6.  Did your Chair concept change or evolve as you worked with the Center’s artists?
The creation of the “WAE of the Zen Chair” was eerily similar to the original design. We used the design elements and materials I had planned to use: photography, collage, leather, quilting, heat transfers, and three-dimensional objects.  The difference-maker came when Jay, a WAE Center artist, started taking fabulous iPad photographs, and we quickly realized that we had to incorporate them into the design.

7.  What does Inclusion mean to you?
Inclusion represents the action or state of including or of being included within a larger group or structure. Our chair focused on the concept of creating a collaborative process that would allow all of the participants to have “a seat at the table,” with the chance to contribute their own particular talents and abilities.

8.  Other than Chairs, what are some of the recent projects you’ve worked on?
In August, I returned from my seventh trip to Cuba. I was commissioned to photograph the historic African American Artists and Abstraction Exhibit at the Museum of Fine Art.  Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art in Newark, will be hosting an event: Cuba Diary/Then and Now, which will feature my work in a photo-documentary PowerPoint format.

9.  What words do you live by?
“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” – El Hajj Malik Shabazz

10.  What is your next project?
In October 2014, I will travel to Tierra Bomba, Cartagena, Columbia, South America, with a team of photographers to document this interesting community, which has retained elements of African culture for several hundred years.  We will also be teaching photography to children and will be documenting a drumming festival.


Photos of the collaboration in process


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