Musicians and Poets Perform New Works Inspired by American PAFA Art

Musician and choreographer Kingsley Ibeneche was inspired by “Nicodemus” by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1899). It is the first painting by a black artist acquired by the PAFA in 1900. Tanner is the first black to graduate from the Academy.

The painting of Jesus is “Nicodemus” by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1899), from the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. (Courtesy of Making American Artists)

“I was really drawn to a lot of his work, not just because he was black, which is great, but also because he’s known for using light,” Ibeneche said.

The painting depicts a nocturnal biblical scene in which Jesus is in conversation with a Pharisee, a member of an ancient Jewish sect. It was painted while Tanner was traveling through Israel.

“It’s a beautiful painting because these two humans are illuminated and we don’t know where the light is coming from,” Ibeneche said. “I think that’s so cool.”

Ibeneche used his reaction to “Nicodemus” and another Tanner painting, “The Banjo Player,” to complete writing two songs, which he performs as part of “Multitudes.” At a previous gig at World Cafe Live, he put his guitar down in the middle of a song and launched into an impromptu dance around his bandmates.

“It’s my guitar solo, my dance,” he said. “I’m not the best on the guitar. I can maintain the core, the notes. But when I want to play a solo, I usually dance.

The dance was not planned. Ibeneche surprised the audience, his own bandmates and even himself.

” He just went out. It was not planned. It wasn’t part of the show, and I want it to be now,” he said, promising to do it again at PAFA this weekend accompanied by pianist Ra’Quan Washington.

“His expression enhanced in the purest and most authentic sense,” he said. “Maybe it’s not dancing. I could just cry on stage. I don’t know what will happen this time.


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