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Art and social justice series 'Black House Narratives' debuts Thursday

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In response to the enduring issues of police brutality and questions of equity, this week 21st Century Arts kicks off the first in a trio of events that are centered on community discussions about art and social justice. 21st Century Arts founder Rachel DeGuzman is calling the series “The Black House Narratives,” named for The Black House space on Tremont Street, which evolved from the WOC Art Collaborative earlier this year.

The first event, an 11-day arts installation titled “Black Will Not Step Back,” is “an artistic dialogue with the BLM protests on the streets in Rochester and around the country as well as radical affirmations of Blackness,” DeGuzman says. It’s presented in collaboration with BLM Roc and features a robust program of documentary screenings, visual art, performances, and a Long Table Discussion with activist participants co-organized by DeGuzman and Stanley Martin of Free The People Roc.

“Black Will Not Step Back” runs from Thursday, Nov. 19, through Sunday, Nov. 29, and features Black portraits by Athesia Benjamin, photography by Narada J. Riley and Erica Jae (pictured), the photo and soundscape “The Empire Has No Skin: A Deconstruction of America’s Foundational Mythology,” and virtual poetry from Dr. Irma McClaurin. Film screenings include the 2017 documentary, “Whose Streets?,” about the Ferguson uprising in reaction to the police murder of Michael Brown; Rochester-based filmmaker Martin Hawk’s short film, “A Litany for Survival,” which features footage of a local BLM protest outside of Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren’s home and was a 2020 Official Selection of the Portland Film Festival; and “Dead Tired,” a short film directed by Minneapolis-based artist Vanessa Agnes in response to the murder of George Floyd.

A second wave of the coronavirus has renewed caution about people gathering, so the first event in the series is a hybrid of limited-capacity, in-person viewing and online engagement. Access to the exhibition and screenings will be limited to two daily viewings for audiences of just eight people at a time (free to attend, but tickets are required).

The Long Table Conversation will be held on Friday, Nov. 20, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and will be presented to a limited, physically distanced audience, and also live-streamed on social media. There will also be an artist panel on Friday, Nov. 27, at 7:30 p.m., an artist talk on Saturday, Nov. 28, at 3 p.m., and a closing community Long Table Conversation on Sunday, Nov. 29, at 1:30 p.m. Each of these events will be presented to small, physically distanced in-person audiences and streamed live on social media to virtual audiences.

And the decision about when and how to host the planned second and third chapters in the series (“WTF America” and “Ode to Black Joy,” each similarly ambitious in scope) will be determined pending news on the state of the virus.



“Black Will Not Step Back” takes place Thursday, Nov. 19, at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., and continues through Sunday, Nov. 29. The Black House, 215 Tremont Street. Masks are mandatory at all times while visiting The Black House. Free, but tickets are required. More information is available at facebook.com/artsandjusticeROC.

Rebecca Rafferty is CITY's arts & entertainment editor. She can be reached at becca@rochester-citynews.com.