Karole Turner Campbell is many things. A painter. An arts educator and ex-school principal. A performer and director. Somedays, she’s Sojouner Truth or Harriet Tubman. Next week, she’ll be all of them.
Campbell will visit different schools during MOJA with excerpts from Journey to Freedom, a production she first developed in the 1980s with the support of the New York State Bicentennial Commission. The original version covered the spectrum of the African-American experience channeled through outstanding history-busters like educator Mary McLeod Bethune, poet Maya Angelou, and civil rights icons Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.
Campbell continued to perform Journey to Freedom at various venues and events, including a tribute to Rosa Parks in the early ’90s. “I got to perform her in front of her,” says Campbell. “That was incredible.”
At the same time, Campbell cultivated her other passion. In 1990 she was an emerging artist with a one-woman show. When she was offered the opportunity to become a principal, she put all of her direction and energy into her school. But she never lost her interest in drawing and painting.
“I had to sacrifice lots to keep the arts in my school,” she says. “Arts and physical education are always the first things to go. But the children we teach are human beings. They need to have their body, soul, mind, and spirit educated.”
Although she’s retired from her day job as principal, Campbell’s passion for education is undimmed. You can tell in the way she talks about it, promotes it, and shares her experiences with educators.
As she visits local schools, she’ll hold preliminary workshops with teachers, sharing historical information where applicable and providing lesson plans that they can incorporate into their instruction. The actual performances will be authentic, packing in the historical facts without getting preachy. For a while she will embody Sojourner Truth, using the anti-slavery and women’s rights activist’s own words from her powerful speech, “Ain’t I a woman?”
It’s a portrait that takes on a life of its own in a similar way to a series of artworks that Campbell calls “Facets.” She found that the images never turned out exactly as she’d planned. “They take on a life of their own and become their own thing,” she says. “All of them end up where they want to be.”
Campbell’s MOJA exhibition — the first since her 1990 show — also includes a corresponding series, Faces of Black Folk. Although she keeps her paintings and performances separate, both of these are linked by Campbell’s belief in education through art. “It’s who we are as humans,” she says. “Art comes out of all of us.”
Works by Karole Turner Campbell will be on view at the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium through Oct. 25. 77 Calhoun St. (843) 724-7305. Free.