Annie Ruth honors local women with Dada Rafiki

At the age of 3, Annie Ruth began her work as a visual artist, and during her freshman year of college, she read her first poem aloud in response to her nephew's death. Ever since then, she’s worked as a community-based visual and performing artist with the goal of bringing together diverse groups of people. 

Though Ruth’s first art exhibit was at the age of 3 (on the flaps of blank pages of her family’s encyclopedia set, she says), she never expected it to be a career path. 

“For the longest time, I was headed down the path of becoming a doctor because my mom was sick a lot when I was growing up,” Ruth says. 

Ruth, now 49, grew up in College Hill. She says her career transition from doctor to artist didn’t happen until her high school years when she and a friend were involved in a serious car accident while on the way to a football game. 

“I finally realized I had been blessed with this tremendous gift of art, and it was my art that helped build bridges and connect to people’s hearts,” Ruth says. “So I would be a doctor, but my art would be that healing mechanism.” 
Since the mid-'90s Ruth says she’s dedicated a lot of her work toward celebrating and empowering women, and in 2005, she created Dada Rafiki—a photo exhibit that honors women. It garnered recognition and a yearning for more stories. 

“When people came to view the exhibit, they said they needed to see more of it, so in 2006, I moved the exhibit to the Community Action Agency, which had just opened a new building in the Jordan Crossing area," she says. "So I pulled in other artists and poets as well, and we were able to actually donate a 22-piece permanent collection to honor 22 women, and it’s kind of grown since then.” 

Now Dada Rafiki: Sisters of Legacy, which celebrates the lives of 40 women who are 65 years and older, makes its debut at a nationally renowned establishment—the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Ruth says the intention of this installment is to “begin to create intergenerational dialogue so we can really have a chance to sit at the feet of our elders and hear some of their stories and know why they did some of the things they did that impacted Cincinnati and the rest of the world.” 

In addition to the exhibit’s three-month display at the Freedom Center, replicas will travel to 59 different venues in the Cincinnati area where community members can view the art and participate in different programs, which range from concerts and lectures to intergenerational talks with young mothers. 

“When I think about my ultimate outcome, there is a mission,” Ruth says. “Because Cincinnati is known for being such a separated community, I want to highlight that the whole community is not that way and that many of us dream of a world where people can come together and appreciate each other for the uniqueness that everyone brings to our city."

Ruth says her focus is on what she believes can bring people together—music, poetry and song—“a universal language.” 

“I hope that people, from viewing and experiencing things going on in Dada Rafiki, will celebrate the contribution of women, but also appreciate the uniqueness that true diversity has to offer,” she says. “True diversity is about building bridges and connecting. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree, but creating mutual respect for all types of art forms.”

Do Good: 

• View Dada Rafiki: Sisters of Legacy at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Support Annie Ruth in her educational efforts to connect underserved communities with the arts through the Eye of the Artists Foundation.

• Like Eye of the Artists and Dada Rafiki on Facebook to keep up with the latest news and events.

By Brittany York

Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a teacher at the Regional Institute of Torah and Secular Studies. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.
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