Black Spatial Relics and Lifting Black Vigilance

when everything and all we got is each other,

our side eye turned protest and our best recollection

 
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A proofread letter from the Percy Family Papers at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. (Photo courtesy of author).

A proofread letter from the Percy Family Papers at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. (Photo courtesy of author).

 

watching. The work above, crafted in part from the Percy Family Papers, is a notice to Black sharecroppers near Foote, Mississippi of the continuation of their tenant arrangements on white owned land. This letter neatly articulates an exploitation of Black labor. In memorial to this labor, I offer backtalk. It is a far smoother backtalk than that which I witness from my mother and grandmother, but nevertheless it is in the lineage of my people. I come from people who don’t (yet) have a whole lot of time, space or money for contemplative memorial practice. I come from Black vigilance as memorial practice - a watching that reminds us that trouble came, trouble is and trouble may very well come again. It is as much a looking and a gathering as it is a performance, a position, a suite of gestures that remember, protect and forecast. I come from a memorial practice that is aware of the weather however temporary, seasonal, fixed and mutable. Our memorial is rooted in our gathering, our sharing of story, our tending to our elders and our tending to our children. Nevermind that it is sometimes ephemeral, just know that it is always rehearsed. It is efficient in its use of resource. It is relentless in its pursuit of freedom. It can loop and pivot from protest to celebration to shit talk or silence. And while many Black folks I know are in this memorial practice regularly, I find that Black artists are especially and often durationally observant.

reiterating. Here just after decoration day, Juneteenth, in the 400 year anniversary of slavery in the U.S. colonies, under, amongst and against a regime that has weaponized memory in old and new ways, there are Black artists in deep radical practices of Black vigilance. These are the people who offer their time, love, money, sweat, expertise, bodies and art as a sacrifice toward spaces for gathering, healing, freedom, dreaming, rest and remembering for their people, both living and dead. In solidarity with a body of people who have made it their life’s work to carve, protect and reiterate these spaces of Black vigilance, I began developing Black Spatial Relics.

Founded in 2016, the Black Spatial Relics (BSR) Residency supported the development of two new performance works that addressed and incorporated the public history of slavery and contemporary issues of justice. In the 2016-2017 year, artists-in-residence ChE and James Jorsling convened at The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island to develop new performance works about slavery.

Now an independent project, this year, Black Spatial Relics was able to support the work of two artists-in-residence by offering them financial, programmatic and dramaturgical support. Black Spatial Relics artists lead performance projects that may traverse or engage dance, theatre, performance installation and/or ritual, spoken word, music/sound, visual arts and or any multidisciplinary constellation of the aforementioned. To the end of supporting Black artists making work and life in spaces they call home, this residency endeavors to provide resources to support performance development processes that center dreaming and public/site-responsive performance. This residency is about making space for Black artists to stay in residence where they are and make this work. As an effort that explicitly lifts Black gathering spaces, and performance inspired exchange, Black  Spatial Relics champions practices of Black vigilance. Black Spatial Relics is also engaging Black vigilance through backtalk as the project endeavors to challenge white land-owners in the residency field to consider what are the full histories of their land and what are appropriate reparative actions. Black Spatial Relics dreams of significant funding opportunities dedicated to imagining and conjuring Black freedoms.

witnessing. This year’s Black Spatial Relics artists-in-residence, Julie B. Johnson (Atlanta, Ga) and muthi reed (Philadelphia, Pa) are amplifying performance methodologies toward trans-historical solidarity and Black vigilance.  Julie B Johnson will use her award to support her project Idle Crimes and Heavy Work. Idle Crimes and Heavy Work is developed in conjunction with her participation as a co- director of The Georgia Incarceration Performance Project — a devised archives-to- performance collaboration exploring the history of incarceration and convict labor in Georgia. “Idle Crimes and Heavy Work,” is a choreographic exploration of the often overlooked experiences of black women within this history, embodying narratives of gendered and racial violence, and amplifying modes of resistance and restoration.

muthi reed will use their award to support their work House Of Black Infinity// WILDIN. Working between Philadelphia and York, Alabama, muthi’s work is in partnership with Coleman Center for the Arts. HOUSE OF BLACK INFINITY // WILDIN is a community vision for intercultural trans regional society, gathering and contemplating topographic visions for twenty first century living. Organizing the Council, muthi will conduct archival research about local Black and Native life. From research, they are making work to share in community— part holler, porch sit, walk, ritual, libations, roll call, story performance, sing, prayer, drill. WILDIN is a conceptual audio and video performance work.

These artists were selected from a pool of 38 applicants from around the United States developing rigorous work engaging histories of slavery, justice and freedom. Alongside these two artists Black Spatial Relics lifts the work of five applicants whose work is also relentlessly endeavoring toward Black freedom. The five honorable mentions include Crystal Z. CAmpbell, Marissa Williamson, Monet Noelle Marshall, Viktor L Ewing-Givens, and Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow. To the end of lifting and amplifying radical Black work, below you can learn more about their efforts.

JODIE LYN-KEE-CHOW

Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow’s work explores performance and installation art, drawing from the nostalgia of Jodie’s homeland Jamaica, the commodified imagery of Caribbean primitivism, folklore, fantasy, consumerism, spirituality and nature’s ephemerality.

PROJECT: JUNKANOOAACOME

"Junkanooaacome” is a site-specific, interdisciplinary/interactive project consisting of workshops, performances, and other media intended to decolonize and raise awareness of NYC’s historic spaces and monuments still bearing names of slave masters. Lyn-Kee-Chow aims to celebrate decolonization by making this Jamaican Junkanoo (a practice intended to confront slave-masters) relevant during other times of the year and not only during Christmas time as it's traditionally practiced. Support the work here.

CRYSTAL Z CAMPBELL

Crystal Z Campbell is a US artist and writer of African-American, Filipino and Chinese descents hailing from Oklahoma. Campbell's work in analog film, video, sound, performance, sculpture, drawing, painting, photography, and community projects are excavations of unsettled historical narratives ranging from Henrietta Lacks' immortal cell line to the Jonestown Tragedy. Campbell uses art as a tool for agency, social transformation, time-travel and interdisciplinary research, while questioning the politics of witnessing.

PROJECT: SLICK: A Person Who Advises or Shows the Way to Others is a

feature-length experimental documentary video, series of live
performances, and a publication centering Oklahoma and its history of
black townships, oil, and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Support the work here.

MARISA WILLIAMSON

Marisa Williamson is a multimedia artist based in Newark, NJ. She has created site-specific works at and in collaboration with the University of Virginia, Mural Arts Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Storm King Art Center, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her videos, performances, and installations have been exhibited internationally. She received her B.A. from Harvard University and her M.F.A. from CalArts. She was a participant in the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in 2012 and the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program in 2014-2015.She has taught at the Pratt Institute, the Brooklyn Museum, and Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. She is currently on the faculty at the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford.

PROJECT: ROOMS

Room is an interactive multimedia installation, performance, and speculative retelling of historical narratives inspired by the lives of three women, enslaved in colonial America. The project, developed by Marisa Williamson during her residency at SPACES in Cleveland, OH, is a variation on the pop culture “escape room” phenomenon offering players the opportunity to compete against the clock to solve puzzles using clues, hints, and strategy. Learn about Marisa’s work here.

MONET NOELLE MARSHALL

Monét Noelle Marshall is a Durham, North Carolina-based artist, director, producer and creative consultant.  She serves as the Founding Artistic Director of MOJOAA Performing Arts Company, producing new works by and new opportunities for Black playwrights. Marshall is also the Founder and Lead Con(sulting) Artist at BaD Arts Consulting which helps creatives do better business and businesses be more creative. Monét Noelle Marshall uses the arts to engage communities in collective visioning, changemaking and joy as social action.

PROJECT: Bring Me My Purse

Did you know that the average net worth of a Black woman in America is $0 if she is college educated; -$1100 if she is not. How did we get here? How did enslaved Black women create wealth through their physical and reproductive labor to now passing debt down through generations? How do Black woman continue to be the societal “breadlosers” while feeding everyone else? How much do we owe Black women? When will we pay up?

This project will feature interviews, photography and videography that will culminate in an installation that will house visual art, audio, performances, workshops and digital interventions. Learn more about the work and support it here.

VIKTOR L EWING-GIVENS

Viktor l. Ewing-Givens is a  interdisciplinary cultural producer, ancestral research advocate and founder of  project Mo’lasses, an evolving creative research project that investigates the ways ancestral archives,  heir property and material culture can become platforms for collective healing, reinvention and self actualization.  

PROJECT: Mo’lasses

This touring project iterates as visual exhibitions, lectures, public performance rituals, sound compositions, video installations and creative non-fiction publications. For more information visit their website here. 

Each one of these projects is radically moving us toward freedom. I hope that you will research these efforts and many like them around the country. I hope that you will support these projects listed above and other projects directly. I invite you to show up for gatherers and conveners of Black vigilance now, even and especially when everything and all we got is each other, our side eye turned protest and our best recollection of our histories and ourselves.


Monument Lab Fellow

Arielle Brown is a multidisciplinary cultural producer, social and civic practice theater artist, and dramaturg based in Philadelphia, PA. Brown’s work seeks solutions for how cultural institutions and arts initiatives can facilitate social justice and cultural equity through the championing of culturally specific performance. Emerging from her work and research around U.S. slavery, racial terror and justice, Arielle is committed to supporting and creating Black performance work that commands imaginative and material space for social transformation. Her project, Black Spatial Relics: A New Performance Residency around Slavery, Justice and Freedom, supports the development of performance works that address and incorporate the public history of slavery and contemporary issues of justice.