Fatima’s U.S. Experience V – Crystal Bridges & Little Rock

Fatima is a Visiting International student from Pakistan. She spent the Fall 2013 semester at the U of A. She shares her experiences in a series of blog posts.

My ifriend Gina Gray is an amazing woman. She is big-hearted and generously thoughtful. Hence, one day when I mentioned that I had not been able to go to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art with the International Cultural Team, she volunteered to take me one weekend, and I eagerly took her up on her offer.

Pow! Bam!

An interesting fact about Fayetteville that I have not mentioned in my previous posts is that the first Wal-mart was opened in Rogers, which is a town not too far from Fayetteville (a 20 minute drive, I’ve been told). The owner, Sam Walton, was originally from Oklahoma, a neighboring state of Arkansas. Before opening Wal-mart, he had opened up a five-and-dime store in Bentonville, which is also a town 30 minutes away from Fayetteville. Because of Wal-mart’s prominent presence, Fayetteville enjoys a thriving, vibrant arts scene. The Waltons have donated generously to various projects over the years. The Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art is one of those projects that was funded by the daughter of Sam Walton.

Gina and I, along with one of Gina’s colleagues Christina, set out on a rainy Saturday to visit the museum. The museum is built to blend it with its very beautiful forest surroundings. The roofs are curved downwards like the back of a beetle, so when it rains the water slides down them and into the lake that it is built over. The museum itself is divided into various sections. We started off with the more realist, baroque-style paintings of the early 1600s and moved on to the more impressionist paintings. Some of the quoted prices of the paintings were very interesting – to quote one fellow visitor exclaimed, ‘I feel like I shouldn’t even be standing so close to them!’

The fact that I could recognize many of the modernist American greats – Rothko, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Wyeth, Rockwell – before even reading the label accompanying them filled me with pretentious art-connoisseur pride. I knew more than my American guides in the era, so much so that Christina asked me how I knew so much about art. It helps to be painfully pretentious at times.

Later, Gina treated Christina and me to lunch at the museum café, and soon we were ready to head back. We could not visit the tracks surrounding the museum that day due to the persistent raining, but it still was a surprisingly productive and fun day.

Little Rock

The International Students Office organized a trip to Little Rock for (surprise, surprise) International Students. I signed up immediately. Little Rock is the capital of Arkansas, and there are a lot of people on campus from Little Rock.

We visited the Farmer’s Market of Little Rock, as well as the Arkansas Museum of Natural History. Interesting as both places were, I was truly moved by the Museum of African-American History, or as it is better known – the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. I have read about slavery in America before, but here were some of the truly, movingly powerful moments from that part of American history. Here we learned about the lynching of John Carter and the North Little Rock Six (amazingly, the receptionist at this museum was the younger sister of one of the six students). These were stories of true courage – to stand up in the face of millions of people and demand for a basic right.

African-American history has always fascinated me. I loved listening to old-school rap during my younger days (Tupac, Wu-Tang) and I have been a huge admirer of James Baldwin and Toni Morrison’s writings. Hence, this Museum was a very meaningful experience for me.