Art takes center stage at Pan African Film Festival

By Cynthia Gibson

Contributing Writer

BALDWIN HILLS — At the Pan African Film and Art Festival, the big screen is not the only place where artist’s creativity is placed front and center. 

At PAFF ArtFEST, more than 70 fine artists and craftspeople from all over the world present their creative works using oil on canvas, watercolor and pastels, acrylic paper, glass, ceramics, metal, cloth, plastic, wax, wire, leather, and stone. Thanks to PAFF’s partnership with Swedish retailer IKEA, furniture has also become a canvas for artistic creativity.

“We wanted to find a way to pay homage to the fine arts portion of the festival,” PAFF Head of Marketing Marc Brogdon. Brogdon and PAFF Creative Director Kelcey Newman created the ArtFest exhibit, “All artists have a seat at the table.” 

Brogdon said the relationship with IKEA began a few years ago with a donation of around $100,000 worth of furniture. 

“I’m a marketer,” he said. “So, I was trying to figure out what could the real relationship be between a creative and a furniture company? That was when we came up with the idea for All Artists Have a Seat at the Table.”

Using tables and chairs as their canvas, artists were challenged to transform IKEA furniture into creative expressions that captured the festival’s theme. 

Initially, the exhibit only included artists that were displaying their work in the festival.  Charles Bibbs, MOA AZIZ and Sandra Zebi were a few of the artists in the first cohort. 

“We started out with some amazing renowned artists,” Brogdon said. “As we expanded the program, we started getting more artists from around the country and around the globe.” 

In its third year, the exhibit has grown to include IKEA cabinets and dressers. Artists participating in 2024 are Jennia Fredrique Aponte, Milton Bowens, Daphne Burgess, Zoie Noelle Brogdon, Robert E. Hansen and Karen Gibson Roc.

On opening night of All Artists Have a Seat at the Table, artists spoke about their approach to the exhibit and incorporating PAFF’s 2024 theme, Inspire.

Hansen, a former visual merchandiser/event producer who reinvented himself as a visual designer, transformed a vertical five-drawer chest into “The Founder’s Chest.” The front of the chest displays PAFF’s 2024 signature graphic of a woman wearing sunglasses with a reflection of PAFF’s logo. The sides and back of the chest display images of PAFF’s three founders, actor Danny Glover, actress Ja’Net Dubois and activist Ayuko Babu.

I chose the chest because I really wanted people to get the idea that the founders put so much into this this festival,” Hansen said. “When you open it, you see films that represent the last five, six years. The inspiration was just making sure everyone knew that these individuals were the reason why we’re all here.”

According to Kevin Matthews, IKEA country area marketing manager, the retailer’s partnership with PAFF is an opportunity to bridge culture with the arts, diversity and inclusion. 

“Everyone always makes the connection between music and fashion, but there really is an opportunity to dive into the interior design space in a bigger way,” Matthews said. “The mission behind PAFF definitely connects to the values of IKEA as a brand.”

“All Artists Have a Seat at the Table,” will be on display through Feb. 19 inside the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

The art of poetry will be on full display at the PAFF Spoken Word Fest Feb. 17. The Spoken Word Fest will have more than a dozen poets, including three featured professional poets, Nikki Blak, Sekou Andrews and Iona Morris Jackson. Tony Award-winning poet Petri and Tuesday Conner will be honored during the event.

Actor and poet Paul Mabon has produced PAFF Spoken Word Fest for the past eight years. A veteran television and movie actor, Mabon’s credits include “Insecure,” “Superstore,” “Criminal Minds,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Def Poetry Jam,” “Versus and Flow” and “It’s Showtime at the Apollo.”  

He is best known for his role as Alan in the Progressive Insurance commercials.

Mabon said attendees of PAFF Spoken Word Fest can expect an immersive and interactive event.

“It’s not just sitting in a seat watching poetry for two hours,” Mabon said. In addition to the spoken word, “We do what we call old-school versus new school.  Two poets — a teenager and a seasoned poet — make the case for which music is better. They work with the DJ, and it just gets the crowd involved. Everybody feels like they’re part of it.”  

The Spoken Word Fest also has a fashion element that includes audience participation. “Shoe game” invites members of the audience to walk the red carpet and show off their footwear for an opportunity to win first place.

“Because it’s a once-a-year thing, we want to make the entire event special,” Mabon said. 

PAFF’s closing night film, the world premiere of Mario Van Peebles’ western, “Outlaw Posse,” will screen on Feb. 18.  The final day of the festival, Feb. 19, will feature a full day of repeat festival screenings and two short film series.

For more information on the 2024 PAFF, including individual tickets, passes and a digital film guide, visit