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Ausbra Ford

Ausbra Ford's academic and sculptural work has been the result of his adept merging of scholarly research with an artist's creativity. He was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 28, 1935. He attended Coleman Elementary and DuSable High School before studying sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he earned a B.A. in 1964 and a M.F.A. in 1966.

From 1964-1968, Ford taught art courses for elementary schools in both the Gary and Chicago public school systems. He then served a brief stint as an associate professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge before returning to Chicago to become a full-time Professor at Chicago State University. In support of his interest in the funeral art of Afro-Americans, Ford received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship as well as a grant from Chicago State University to conduct research on the funerary art of West and Central Africa. Subsequent grants from the Chicago State University Foundation allowed him to continue pursuing his work in the field.

Ford's writing on funerary art has been published in journals such as World Anthropology and the Morition Press, and in the books Two Centuries of Afro-American Art and African Influence in Funeral Art of Haiti.

He has lectured at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the Chicago Field Museum, as well as numerous colleges around the country. Ford sits on the Board of Directors of the DuSable Museum; is the President and one of the founders of the African American Visual Arts Roundtable; and is a member of both the Kemetic Institute of Northeastern Illinois University and the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations. His work has been exhibited both locally and nationally, in one man and group shows. Ford's pieces are part of the permanent collections of Chicago State University, the University of Suwon in the Republic of Korea, the Southside Community Art Center in Chicago, the DuSable Museum of African American History, Northeastern Illinois University and Chicago's Hilton Hotel.

Accession Number

A2002.078

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

5/17/2002

Last Name

Ford

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Du Sable Leadership Academy

Colman Elementary School

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name

Ausbra

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

FOR04

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Africa, Brazil

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

2/28/1935

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Chicken

Short Description

Sculptor and art professor Ausbra Ford (1935 - ) has taught at Chicago State University and lectured around the country. In support of his interest in the funeral art of Afro-Americans, Ford received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship as well as a grant from Chicago State University to conduct research on the funerary art of West and Central Africa.

Employment

Chicago Public Schools

Southern University

Chicago State University

Gary Indiana Public Schools

Favorite Color

Orange, Light Tan

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ausbra Ford's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ausbra Ford lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ausbra Ford talks about his family

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ausbra Ford describes the building where he grew up

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ausbra Ford describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ausbra Ford describes his father's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ausbra Ford talks about his father's trucking business

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ausbra Ford talks about his father leaving Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ausbra Ford describes some of his father's stories

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Ausbra Ford talks about his father's business philosophy

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Ausbra Ford describes his mother's escape from Georgia and move to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Ausbra Ford describes his mother's personality

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ausbra Ford describes his maternal grandmother's personality

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ausbra Ford shares his grandparents' stories of the trauma of slavery and lynching

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ausbra Ford describes his reactions to hearing family stories of lynching

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ausbra Ford describes his childhood in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ausbra Ford describes his childhood in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ausbra Ford describes the development of the Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ausbra Ford describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ausbra Ford talks about the gangs in Bronzeville during his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ausbra Ford describes his experience at Coleman Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ausbra Ford describes what kind of student he was at Coleman Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Ausbra Ford talks about his aspirations to become an artist or architect

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ausbra Ford describes his parents' response to his decision to become an artist

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ausbra Ford describes his experience at DuSable High School in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ausbra Ford describes his experience at DuSable High School in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ausbra Ford talks about athletics at DuSable High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ausbra Ford talks about how DuSable High School prepared him academically

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ausbra Ford talks about his high school teacher, HistoryMaker Margaret Burroughs

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ausbra Ford talks about graduating from DuSable High School in 1953

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ausbra Ford talks about his service in the United States Air Force during the Korean War

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Ausbra Ford talks about his experience at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Ausbra Ford talks about his relationship with HistoryMaker Dr. Margaret Burroughs

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ausbra Ford describes the beginning of his academic career

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ausbra Ford describes his study of funeral art in Africa, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ausbra Ford describes his study of funeral art in Africa, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ausbra Ford describes his experience teaching at Northeastern Illinois University Center for Inner City Studies

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ausbra Ford describes his growth as an artist

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ausbra Ford talks about the importance of AFRI-COBRA and the art scene in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ausbra Ford talks about his experience teaching at the Kemetic Institute and Chicago State University

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ausbra Ford talks about the importance of the collective in his art and teaching

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ausbra Ford describes his first trip to Egypt in 1987, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ausbra Ford describes his first trip to Egypt in 1987, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ausbra Ford talks about his second trip to Africa in 1988

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ausbra Ford talks about the influence of traveling to Africa on his art

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ausbra Ford describes his two sculptures on Oshun

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ausbra Ford talks about his interest in mixed media sculpture

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ausbra Ford talks about the experience of traveling to Brazil

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ausbra Ford talks about the relationship between African and Brazilian art

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ausbra Ford talks about the creation of the African American Visual Artists Roundtable

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Ausbra Ford talks about his success with the African American Visual Artists Roundtable

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ausbra Ford talks about his experience with the committee to provide art to the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ausbra Ford talks about his experience with the committee to provide art to the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ausbra Ford talks about the present support of visual arts in the black community

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ausbra Ford reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ausbra Ford talks about how he would like to be remembered and his parents' pride in him

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ausbra Ford talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ausbra Ford narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

8$4

DATitle
Ausbra Ford talks about the importance of the collective in his art and teaching
Ausbra Ford describes his two sculptures on Oshun
Transcript
Yeah it's an interesting thing about the way you speak of your, your work and your experiences you--many artists talk about their vision on something and what they're creating and you, of course, you, your work is unique, their yours on a level, but you, you always speak about in, in a collective way like you're part of something bigger, I mean, you know, you, you've done more talking about the influences of other on your than you have about what you, your own, you know--(unclear)--$$It's, it's that--I, I think it's that African thing, man you know it's that, the collective is as so, so very important, you know, and matter fact it was like the first piece that I did for Inner City Studies [Northeastern Illinois University Center for Inner City Studies in Chicago] I had one name on it, and they renamed it. I, I didn't get upset 'cause hey shoot does it work. Fine, that's probably the way it was meant to be. Sometime it has two names. I said I could care less, but it's, it's the feedback, the input from other folk, which is so important, and this is a problem that we have so much in Western culture and Western art. You know, everything is "I" and, and I keep drumming it and drumming it, and drumming it into those student's heads and everything else. The whole thing is the community, the collective us and Africa. That's why we in trouble now. That's why the continent's in trouble 'cause people doing all these crazy things, and it's all about I and forgetting about everybody else and its un-African. And it's not gon' straighten out, and we're not gonna get the continent straightened out until we get our whole thing and get back on like Jake [HM Jacob H. Carruthers] said, "We get back to fundamentals." And when we get back to fundamentals, things are going to straighten out and things can happen. And I just keep saying this is part, this is why we have problems. You just don't have to look at Africa, you can just look here in the United States and see part of our problem here. We don't own nothing. We don't want to do anything. We just falling apart. We got more money. We got more, we got better jobs and everything else, and we are worse off than we ever were. I said we let the family fall apart and once you let that family fall apart and the collectiveness in terms of the community fall apart you got deep troubles. I said and real deep, and I started giving examples, and they say "Hey Ford I agree with you. You right there and everything else." And this is the whole thing that we gotta understanding. I said, "Look we went through slavery. We went through the middle passage and went through slavery, and we didn't fall apart. Look at us now," I said, "just look at us now." We in pathetic shape, and you know when, when you deal with Jake and the rest of 'em you got statistics. You can, you can drop all that stuff off and that's what Andy [Anderson Thompson] does, you know man Andy drop all that stuff off, he say hey get an understanding. This is time to talk, the right talk and get ourselves together as a people, whereas we are not used by every ethnic group that comes along and this is our problem. Everybody has used us, and that's why the continent is in that shape. Everybody wants something from us without paying. I said and that's why we're in that shape, you know, and, and then their eyes get bigger and the next thing you know they reading the African books, they getting into it and everything else and wanna hold a conversation and then the spiritual stuff comes up and all this other kind of jazz, which makes it interesting, you know, and so you making people, you making real human beings out of real African people. And this is what I love about teaching here is that I can, I can touch somebody, you know.$Now, we're in a unique position today to do something unusual that we don't do. We've got two pieces directly behind you that are on camera and I think we might even be able to focus on them, and, and perhaps you can tell us about those. Because you're an artist, you know it's hard to talk about art without looking at it, but, you know, and the ideas that go into the art work. So, maybe if we can maybe talk about the piece to your left over your left shoulder.$$And that's Oshun 'cause that's from, that's from the Bra, Brazilian thing 'cause I recall it and that's after Dr. Anderson Thompson. You know he coined the phrase the African-Brazilian Connection. And I've gone to Brazil doing stuff and I've become very, very influenced by that also and they work together. And that is we call an Orisha called Oshun, and Orishas are aspects of nature, and they're saints really. And Oshun was, was the Oshun River, and she was very, very, very, very powerful, very, very beautiful. She had curative properties and everything else and so that's a sculpture. So, they have colors. Each Orisha has colors, foods, and everything else that relates directly to them. And they come out, and they, they come out dancing, they come out dancing and this is what she's in a move position of moving forward because she's in a position of dancing, and dancing brings in the spirit entity of that, of that particular Orisha and other Orishas, and this is how the ceremony really starts and everything else. So, and you will see orange and with her being the Orisha in terms of the Oshun River, and I was at the Oshun River when I was in Africa and everything. Matter of fact I used to hang around all the time, you know. A beautiful town, Osogbo [Nigeria], but at any rate this is where she's from, so she was very beautiful, and she was also vain. She was, she loved to look at herself and everything else. So, a lot of times she has a mirror, and you'll see that in the hand. And so she was very, very important and very, very powerful. She has the beads in front of her face. It's called a veil of beads and only those who are associated with and those who are associated with royalty have the right to wear the veil of beads in front of the face. Literally what it does is protects the, the viewer from what we call the spiritual energy of the person or the ashe. That a king's ashe is so powerful that it would harm the average person. So, they have the beads in front of the face to protect you from seeing his face. And so, therefore, if this Orisha is associated with in any way with royalty and everything else then therefore you will see the beads in front of the face. So, that's the one over there and so you can see she's got her mirror in her hand, and, and she's ready for action.$$Okay, now there's one too over your right shoulder. Maybe you could describe that one for us?$$I forgot which one is that.$$OFF-CAMERA MALE VOICE: You can look.$$I can look, okay, shoot all right, shoot. Oh, you know what that one is that's Oshun also. The, the, the wall piece and Oshun is, and let me mention this, Oshun is one of my Orishas. I'm very, very involved in it and everything else. And your Orisha is on your head. And Oshun is, she's not the number one Orisha, but she is one of my Orishas. So, therefore, it is only normal that you would do one of your Orishas and so she's the Orisha of love, curative powers, the water, which water is always important and etc. So, this is what's happen, so I've used plexiglass on her and you can notice the veil of beads coming in front of the face and everything else with the gold mask, so orange, gold are her colors and everything else. And if you look real close you can see the fish on the, on her dress, and her dress is shaped almost bell shaped and that's a symbol. Everything in Africa means something. So, that's symbol in terms of the first mound of the world, where the first, the first mound of earth began. The world was surrounded with water, and what was out was this mound of earth and so therefore the skirts symbolize this mound of earth and therefore you get that kind of bell like shape and everything else. So, that's what she has. So, everything on there, you know, researching down to, you know, very much and I do the Brazilian thing the same way as I do the Kemetic thing is. I'm always in touch with the priests, so when they come in town from Brazil they come in and look and you know give me a yeah or nah on it and everything else and matter of fact they, you know, gave me a, you know, go ahead on all the stuff that I've done. You know, they read the shelves and they tell you whether you can go on and do the work or not.