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Helping Ernest Cole’s Spirit to Find Peace

Helping Ernest Cole’s Spirit to Find Peace

The tragedy of how Ernest Cole died in New York, a relatively young, ill, poverty-stricken man, deepens the sadness of his gripping images of South African Apartheid.

At the Grey Art Gallery at New York University, performing artist, scholar and community organizer Refilwe Nkomo may have helped Ernest Cole’s soul to reach a sense of peace.

It is the custom in South Africa for members of the family to cut their hair as a mourning ritual, but Cole, who died in exile, had no one to perform that ritual in New York. So South-African-born Nkomo did that for him. At the end of her movement performance in the gallery among Cole’s photographs last November, “I cut off all of my hair,” she said. She started out with her hair in dreadlocks.

“It felt right to do that,” she said to and BlackmansStreet.Today in a telephone interview from New York City.

At Grey Art Gallery she saw actual prints of Cole’s photographs for the first time. She had only seen them in books and on the Internet before that. She said, “I was drawn to the work and to the artist.”—Rosemary Eng.



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