×

New Jersey Stage menu
New Jersey Stage home
New Jersey Stage search button

Search website


 

With Contributions to Theatre, Literature, Visual Arts, and Social Justice, Rhinold Ponder’s Impact Can be Felt Throughout Central New Jersey

NEWS | FEATURES | PREVIEWS | EVENTS

By Ilene Dube, JerseyArts.com


originally published: 02/03/2022

With Contributions to Theatre, Literature, Visual Arts, and Social Justice, Rhinold Ponder’s Impact Can be Felt Throughout Central New Jersey

In his 62 years, there’s not much Rhinold Ponder hasn’t accomplished.

He’s been an attorney, a writer, an activist and curator; he’s started nonprofits (Art Against Racism) and rescued others (New Brunswick’s Crossroads Theatre, where he served as board president for 10 years). He has a plethora of degrees — after studying political science at Princeton University, he went on to get two master’s, one in journalism and the other in African-American history, before completing his juris law degree. Married to one-time Princeton Township Mayor Michele Tuck-Ponder, Rhinold has co-parented two young adults, one of whom recently became on-air journalist for CBS Chicago, and one is still in high school.

Ever driven, Ponder is also an accomplished fine artist. His current exhibition, Overcoming: Reflections on Struggle, Resilience, and Triumph, is on view at the Arts Council of Princeton through March 5.

With Contributions to Theatre, Literature, Visual Arts, and Social Justice, Rhinold Ponder’s Impact Can be Felt Throughout Central New Jersey

Rhinold Ponder, Maafa Ghosts of the Atlantic III, mixed media acrylic, 30in x 40in, 2018.

Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “We Shall Overcome” proclamation, these paintings “provoke reflection on the resilience of Black people in their continuing struggle for recognition of their humanity and demand for human rights,” Ponder says in an artist statement.

He admits that he cries while he paints. “Sometimes joylessly. Sometimes painfully. But my emotive response during the creative process always lets me know when my work has a chance of touching someone else.”



 
Advertise with New Jersey Stage for $50-$100 per month, click here for info



Although the exhibition fills a small gallery space, the emotions it stirs ripple beyond the building. In “Maafa: Ghosts of the Atlantic III,” we see a figure under water with shackles on her ankles, a fetus in her belly.

Maafa is a Kiswahili term meaning great disaster or terrible occurrence, referring to the Middle Passage or Transatlantic Slave Trade during which millions of Africans were killed.

“In teaching American history, we have ignored the atrocities that have dehumanized people,” says Ponder. “I wanted to rediscover humans lost in such large numbers. This narrative of a chained woman drowning with a child leads me to ask, ‘Did she escape? Is she trying to free her child? Or was she thrown overboard?’”

Throughout the murky waters we see shadowy skulls and ghosts. It’s a beautiful rendering of the sea, until we get up close to see what’s really going on and it becomes painful.

“I try to make the ugly as beautiful as possible to attract you to it and make you stop and think,” says the artist.

Talking about it, tears well up. And the tears came to this writer as well, both viewing the works on her own, and upon hearing Ponder talk about it.

“We know the atrocities that occurred during the beating of people in slavery,” he says, “but we don’t have the visuals. I wanted to show the back of a human being who’d been beaten and whipped.”

With Contributions to Theatre, Literature, Visual Arts, and Social Justice, Rhinold Ponder’s Impact Can be Felt Throughout Central New Jersey

For “Keloids and Scars I” and “Keloids and Scars II,” made on “whipped leather,” he sourced leather coats from resale shops, cut them up, and enlisted Michele, a quilt artist, to piece them together on a stretcher. He hung the canvases from the bough of a tree in his backyard and literally whipped them until keloids and scars formed on the hide. He filled these wounds with red and gold paint. “It was not a fun experience,” he says, trying to hold back more tears. “I wanted to pay attention to my emotions and be fully in the experience. I found a surge of power, and an anger that led to my beating it again and again.”

As a child, Ponder had been spanked “often for the wrong reason, and out of anger.” It made him think about the emotional state of a person who would do this to get someone to obey. “I can’t explain the exhilaration. I didn’t expect it. I don’t consider it a positive.”

In “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” begun before the murder of George Floyd, Ponder painted panels of police shootings of unarmed Black people “but couldn’t keep up.” What caught his attention were that shots were fired multiple times. “Their targets were dehumanized, and their inflicting of pain heightened their emotional exhilaration.”

With Contributions to Theatre, Literature, Visual Arts, and Social Justice, Rhinold Ponder’s Impact Can be Felt Throughout Central New Jersey

But there is hope. “Despite the beatings, the terror, there’s been triumph. Black Americans can still lead lives of joy and participate,” he says.

In “Love Theory I,” we see bronze-skinned women and girls in white skirts, white leotards, white headbands, white gloves, holding their arms up to the white doves flying overhead. It was inspired by a praise dance at the First Baptist Church of Princeton. Embedded into the collage are torn-up bits of text from overrun copies of books on African American sermons that Rhinold and Michele published in the 1990s, “Wisdom of the Word: Faith” and “Wisdom of the Word: Love” (Crown).



 
Advertise with New Jersey Stage for $50-$100 per month, click here for info



“I’m not religious, but the church played a large role in my life,” says Ponder, whose father was a pastor. Church attendance was mandatory when he was growing up. “Church was more than a building – it was a call of faith within the community. Sermons contain some of the greatest stories.”

Cut-up words is a continuing motif in his painting, including the lines of Maya Angelou (“I rise I rise I rise”) and headlines from newspapers such as “Obama Reaches the Mountaintop.” In “Abstract Tulsa,” Band-Aids cover over the N word in various headlines about the massacre against African Americans and the government coverup.

“Band-Aids only partially solve the problems of pain; the sore still exists,” says Ponder.

With Contributions to Theatre, Literature, Visual Arts, and Social Justice, Rhinold Ponder’s Impact Can be Felt Throughout Central New Jersey

Rhinold Ponder, Love Theory I, ", mixed media (acrylic and paper), 30" x 40"

Growing up the eighth of 11 siblings, “my mother raised us on her own and got all her children to go to college” at such esteemed institutions as Princeton, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, DePaul, New York University, and Yale. He credits his mother for inspiring him to do what he loves.

He just happens to love doing lots of things. In addition to writing political essays for The New York Times and others, he’s been writing poetry since high school, when he won a poetry award juried by Gwendolyn Brooks.

As he winds down his law practice, he’s become a founding member of Princeton Makes, where he has studio space to work on larger canvases. And with Judith K. Brodsky, he is co-curating an exhibition for the Arts Council of Princeton, scheduled to open October 20, about a group of overlooked mid- 20th century Black artists working in and around Princeton.

With Overcoming, Ponder himself is unlikely to be overlooked.

 

Cover photo image includes Tulsa Bandaged (cropped).



About the author: Driven by her love of the arts, and how it can make us better human beings, Ilene Dube has written for JerseyArts, Hyperallergic, WHYY Philadelphia, Sculpture Magazine, Princeton Magazine, U.S. 1, Huffington Post, the Princeton Packet, and many others. She has produced short documentaries on the arts of central New Jersey, as well as segments for State of the Arts, and has curated exhibitions at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie and Morven Museum in Princeton, among others. Her own artwork has garnered awards in regional exhibitions and her short stories have appeared in dozens of literary journals. A life-long practitioner of plant-based eating, she can be found stocking up on fresh veggies at the West Windsor Farmers Market.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.








EVENT CALENDAR

ART | COMEDY | DANCE | MUSIC | THEATRE | COMMUNITY

The Wolves

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 @ 7:30pm
McCarter Theatre Center (Berlind Theater)
91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540
category: theatre


Click here for full description

The Caretaker

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 @ 7:30pm
Shakespeare Theatre Of NJ - F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940
category: theatre


Click here for full description

The Wolves

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 7:30pm
McCarter Theatre Center (Berlind Theater)
91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540
category: theatre


Click here for full description

Brooklyn Rider

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 7:00pm
Grunin Center
1 College Drive, Toms River, NJ 08754
category: music


Click here for full description

The Caretaker

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Shakespeare Theatre Of NJ - F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940
category: theatre


Click here for full description

Vivid Stage presents "Soft Animals"

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Oakes Center
120 Morris Avenue, Summit, NJ 07901
category: theatre


Click here for full description

Sweet Baby James

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Algonquin Arts Theatre
60 Abe Voorhees, Manasquan, NJ 08736
category: music


Click here for full description

The Wolves

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
McCarter Theatre Center (Berlind Theater)
91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540
category: theatre


Click here for full description

OPENING NIGHT: AN EVENING WITH RENÉE ELISE GOLDSBERRY

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC)
100 South Street, Morristown, NJ 07960
category: music


Click here for full description

Joey Skaggs: Metamorphosis, Cockroach Miracle Cure, Urania Leilus, The House, Panta Rei, The Hauntings of New Hope - Shorts Program - Online for 24 Hours and In Person at 7PM!

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 7:00pm
NJ Film Festival
71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
category: film


Click here for full description

Adelphi Orchestra - Love Letter to Humanity

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 7:30pm
Fair Lawn Community Center
10-10 20th Street, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410
category: music


Click here for full description

The Caretaker

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Shakespeare Theatre Of NJ - F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940
category: theatre


Click here for full description



For more event listings, click here







 

more in art




 


 


 


 


 

 

New Jersey Stage © 2022 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 | info@newjerseystage.com

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on our RSS feed



Art | Comedy | Dance | Film | Music | Theatre | Ad Rates | About Us | Pitch a Story | Links | Radio Shows