University of South Carolina

Folashade Alao

Carolina Spotlight: Folashade Alao

Folashade Alao found an interest in studying diasporic black migration and art through her familial connection to the Great Migration and African migration as well as her love for writers like Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall and Edwidge Danitcat. At USC Alao, an assistant professor in English and African-American Studies, has been able to continue her research into black artists’ interpretation of the Sea Island culture and explore a classroom of opportunities.

Her research: Alao’s currently working on a book, tentatively titled “Islands of Memory,” about how black writers and visual artists construct the Sea Islands as a critical landscape of cultural knowledge and memory.

“Art is so valuable. Time and time again, artists are showing us that they provide a critical and needed prospective of our world that is sorely needed and is slowly narrowing. The artists I study continue to open our perspectives and show us something new.”

How did you get turned on to this area of research? “I’ve always been interested in migration. That interest stems back from my own family’s migration. I began to think about the ways in which writers and visual artists opened our understanding to the lived experience. How did I get to the Sea Islands? I was vacationing. My mentor in graduate school used to tell me ‘don’t go to a place as a tourist.’ So many times we go places and we don’t see them. So when I traveled to Hilton Head for vacation, I took books with me about that place. And it all clicked. It provided materials for the questions that had been occupying my mind. It opened up a landscape for me, created a map for me to look at. I wanted to read more and more.”

Why study art in relation to race and history? “I want to think about these questions about how artists are instrumental in helping us read the landscape. Often when we think about geography, we look to social scientists. We don’t look to artists. But artists have also between looking at the intersections of space, place, location and memory. Writers, like Toni Morrison, have committed much of her writing to illuminate these intersections vividly in works like “Beloved.”  African American Literature makes the enslaved and segregated past visible to contemporary readers.  This visibility is critical for how we read and interpret the present moment from politics, social interactions to various forms of inequality.

What attracted you to USC? “One of the things I was the impressed with was the department and the possibility of working in both English and African-American studies departments. I was also impressed with the kind of research my colleagues were doing. I thought about the proximity to the research locations as well. I am able to really engage the geographies that I am working with.”  

What do you like about teaching at Carolina? “I’ve been proud of my students for being brave. One of the best classes I’ve taught has been at USC. I’m impressed by the inquisitiveness, the engagement and the daring nature that my students have shown when talking about difficult subjects. Students talk about how nervous they were initially with taking a class about race. I’m proud that my students have allowed my classroom to be a space for open, honest and hopeful dialogue.” 

--Liz McCarthy,, 803-777-2848

Carolina Spotlight is a feature for USC Day Times, highlighting faculty and staff members, students and alumni who truly represent Carolina's spirit. Do you know someone who embodies the USC brand? Recommend them for our next Carolina Spotlight:  

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Posted: 08/06/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 08/08/13 @ 2:03 PM | Permalink



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