Oprah recently gave an inspiring speech, and suddenly people began calling for her to make a 2020 bid and fix this nation's ills. With this in mind, Rachel DeGuzman of 21st Century Arts has continued her crucial "At the Crossroads: Art + Justice" programming this month with a four-part series, "Black Magic Slays Magical Negro," which both celebrates the beauty and creative powers of black women and girls and gives the mic to women of color.
The series kicked off at Gallery 74 on Friday, February 9, and concludes Saturday, February 24. It began with an opening reception for W. Michelle Harris's multimedia art show and a screening of her 19-minute love letter to black women, "Flawless Ladies." The film was screened at the start of each following evening in the series. It's a shifting, kaleidoscopic tribute to famous, obscure, and anonymous black women scientists, artists, writers, activists, and athletes, paired with a bunch of inspiring songs that often contain social messages by Danielle Ponder & The Tomorrow People, Nina Simone, Rosetta Tharpe, Sharon Jones, and others. Each screening had attendees dancing in their seats as Harris called out the names of the women as their faces graced the screens; her voice often joined by an exuberant audience member when they spotted someone they recognized.
The next day, Saturday, February 10, "Flawless Ladies" was followed by a screening of Beyoncé's "Lemonade" in its entirety, setting the tone for the Long Table Conversation that capped off the evening. Meant to foreground the voices of women of color, DeGuzeman invited Harris; Dr. Kristin Hocker, organizational development specialist at the University of Rochester; Delores Jackson Radney of Kuumba Consultants; and educator Gaynelle Wethers to join her for an informal, free-form discussion that touched on black women's creativity, the importance of storytelling, the health of black families as related to mass incarceration and community breakdown, and the lack of consistency in social activism.
The "Black Magic" series continued Saturday, February 17, with a presentation by Reenah Oshun Golden titled "The Old Battle Axe," which she calls "an oral benediction of sorts exploring black woman femininity as a divine blessing and a curse." After reading the sexist and ageist definition of the term, Golden flashed a disarmingly fierce smile, adding that the battle axe was her weapon of choice to slay the "magical negro" archetype.
Golden flexed her charisma as a performer and speaker, and between reading her poems told anecdotes about the difference between what turns up when you search google images for "women waiting," "black women waiting," and "men waiting," all the while Harris riffed on what Golden said with visualization projected onto the wall behind her.
The series wraps on Saturday, February 24, at 5 p.m., with a performance by FuturPointe Dance, followed by a post-performance discussion between artists and attendees. Admission is $15; RSVP at blackmagicslays.brownpapertickets.com.