On Feb. 21, local artist-photographer-art educator Mansa Mussa came to the College at Florham’s Orangerie to give a presentation titled, “The Art of Dance: A World of Photography.”
Mussa was clad in a navy blazer, olive green buttoned up shirt and dark khaki pants. It was both appropriate and interesting for a man who possesses so much creativity.
He later explained that he hated wearing shirts and ties, so that’s why he could never work in an office.
Eleanor Friedl, who works in the library and was responsible for putting the event together, happily introduced the local man.
Mussa made his way to the front of the room, and made all of the college students raise their hands.
The four of us did and he joked that we we’re representing the whole of the university.
There would be no pressure there.
Mussa spoke with charisma and utilized lots of hand motions. He grabbed the attention of the audience by snapping his fingers while his arms waved around in synchronized movements.
Mussa has been an artist since the age of 2. He didn’t remember this, of course, but his mother did. He thanked her and attributed his talents to her persistent pushing him to do something that he loved.
Mussa drew in the audience by giving a brief family history. He welcomed us into his home and his creative mind.
He spoke about how he furthered his artistic abilities in high school, where he credited one of his teachers for pushing him to create art.
The teacher was a great inspiration to him.
In college, he had a male teacher who introduced him to the art of dance, when he invited Mussa to attend an African dance class one evening.
Twenty-eight years later and he still remembers that night.
After that one class, Mussa decided that he liked dance and he continued to perform on stage.
“If you want to be a better dancer, you have to play the instruments,” said Mussa.
So that’s exactly what he did.
The same year he started dancing, he began to play instruments.
It was also the same year that he started taking pictures of dancers. Studio work, in his opinion, was boring. But he is inspired when he sees dancers on stage and gets to photograph them; those are the real people, they never pose.
Mussa has been taking photographs of dancers since 1978.
Though his journey of being a photographer, dancer and artist had been exciting, he added educator to the list when he was asked to work as a teacher at a Rutgers summer program photography class. He officially started teaching dance and photography in 1980.
Mussa hopes that students have enjoyed his artwork on campus. “Hopefully it inspires them to make art,” he said. “Hopefully you can look at it and question two things: Why did you do it and how can I do it?”
He also recommended that all students should take a dance class because that, in his opinion, is the ultimate challenge. His goals for the future are to focus on two things: being an activist and being an organizer.
He wants to bring people together through art. It’s the one singular thing that brings people together. In the words of Mussa, “Art is the thread, the thread that connects us all.”