When the Women Drum: Sister Gerri

When I first met Gerri, she told me "I'm a tribal drummer."  I didn't know what that meant to this Liberian born woman until she went on to explain that when she plays all her ancestors play.  She comes from a line of drummers, and though she was pushed toward the shekere, a feminine instrument, the little girl Gerri determined to play the dun dun, a bass drum.  Now a woman, Gerri McCritty is fulfilling her dream to not only drum but to create art.  Below find a taste of our conversation and Gerri's newest venture!  Peace and Love! Amanda

Bringing Tribal Art to Lancaster:

Gerri McCritty Founds PAVAA Gallery

You may have heard of MOMA and the Whitney, but watch out New York, we've got the Performing and Visual Arts in Action (PAVAA) Gallery!

The brainchild of Liberian artist Gerri McCritty and jazz vocalist CoCo, PAVAA is dedicated to the promotion of African and African American art and music.

Just open this month, PAVAA exhibits highlights from Gerri's work at Millersville University where she graduated with a degree in art last spring at the age of fifty-eight.

  (That's right!  Can you say live my dream?) 

Gerri calls herself a “tribal artist” and sees herself as connecting people to “tribal culture.”For her, tribal refers to the wisdom, customs, and art of indigenous people.Although she grew up privileged in her native Liberia, she spent weekends and school breaks on family farms in rural areas, watching and learning from people with strong tribal traditions.She says she always been attracted to tribal culture. “I would sneak out at night to hang out with the villagers.”It was there that she learned to carve and to play the dun-dun drum, which is traditionally reserved for men.Although partially educated in England and the U.S., and a frequent visitor to Germany, where her Liberian mother lived for forty years, Gerri has long cherished “tribal” ways of seeing the world and that comes across in her art.

Tribal Art Influences

As in Liberia where “We use everything,” Gerri's work includes abstract wood-work, hand made drums, including one with a album cover for its head, and other pieces made from found objects and trash.

The drums have a special place in her life because she fought to drum at a very early age and had to prove herself again and again.

The exhibit also includes several works that feature the head.

“We start with the head because we come out head-first.

I’m very much into heads…I visualize it

[the head] everywhere.

I see it in trees… I see it in the sky…”

One of her most striking works “By Any Means Necessary” investigates human resilience.

This installation represents how people can go from having a lot to having nothing.

“A lot of people are here now.

It represents my mother because she had to live like that during the war.

This is what inspired me.

She was a woman of great dignity and during the war” she had to survive on very little.

Like Mother like Daughter…

Geri herself was studying in the U.S. when the Liberian Civil War broke out.

She found herself unable to return home.

However, she couldn’t continue her undergraduate studies in the sciences without financial support from her family which was devastated by the War.

Like her mother, she learned to make do on very little.

Without documents, she found worked various jobs in human services and managed to support herself and eventually her son.

By necessity, Gerris kept the arts in the margins of her life and developed other skills, but at the ripe age of

fifty-four she matriculated at Millersville University where she decided to major in Studio Art.

PAVAA Gallery

Now only four months after her graduation, Gerri has teamed up with Marion CoCo Coleman to launch a gallery that shares her love of African art, music and culture.

“This opening is the beginning.

This gallery is the birth.

I’m inviting the Lancaster community to journey with me.

I can learn from them, and they can learn from me.”

True to its tribal roots, PAVAA emphasizes audience interaction.

McCritty envisions musicians, art lovers, and people from all backgrounds participating in drumming and dance and screenings.

“Whatever we do, we’re heavy into audience participation and interaction… Every time you come here we’re going to be doing something…”

If you go…



@632 N. Christian St. Lancaster, PA 17602

Open Saturdays 11am-3pm;

For more info see:

Facebook.com/PAVAAGallery on Facebook

Thank you for reading

On a Mission to Heal the Planet.

  Our mission is to nurture and expand the Tribe of the Heart, individuals who stand for Oneness and Take Action to heal the world, their families, and themselves.   

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 Peace and Love, Amanda