Black History Celebrated in New Documentary, Graphic Novel, and Other Grantee Works

17 Feb 2021


Eric Battle at the Black Lives Always Mattered! exhibition, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University. Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg courtesy of Temple University. 

Many Center grantees are exploring and animating Black history through a variety of artistic works and programming that bring new insights to the stories, experiences, and influence of Black Americans. Projects examine topics ranging from the important impact of Black Philadelphians and communities with deeply rooted Black cultural history, to Haitian influences on the music and culture of New Orleans, and the history and present-day implications of segregated swimming pools in America.

In recognition of Black History Month, read about some of these imaginative projects and how you can experience them for yourself.

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Running Now

Black Lives Always Mattered! Hidden African American Philadelphians in the 20th Century
A graphic novel depicting the history and impact of fourteen Black Philadelphians, including W.E.B. DuBois, Marian Anderson, and Cecil B. Moore, is in development from Temple University’s Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection. Get a preview of the forthcoming book on the BLAM! website, and hear the Blockson Collection’s Dr. Diane Turner and others discuss the project in this video.

Inequality in Bronze: Monumental Plantation Legacies
Stenton, a historic house museum in Northwest Philadelphia, has commissioned a new memorial to Dinah, an enslaved woman who lived at the site and who is credited with saving Stenton from burning by the British in 1777. Pew Fellow Karyn Olivier has been selected to create the monument, following a yearlong process involving discussions with the site’s surrounding community members. “I believe Dinah’s memorial...should allow for multiple perspectives, histories, and narratives to come to the fore; as a site for inquiry, interpretation, and imaginings of the future,” Olivier writes in her proposal. Learn more about the project on Stenton's website, and attend an upcoming Zoom performance and discussion to learn more about Dinah’s story.

Kanaval: Haitian Rhythms & the Music of New Orleans
A three-hour radio documentary and multimedia website from WXPN examines the history of Haiti and Haitian influences on the music, culture, and community of New Orleans. Hosted by Haitian American and New Orleans-based artist and musician Leyla McCalla, the documentary features music and interviews with a range of musicians and historians to animate this vibrant but underappreciated history. Visit the Kanaval website to listen to music from Haitian artists and find out when your NPR affiliate will be airing the documentary this month.



Haitian band Lakou Mizik, part of WXPN's Kanaval: Haitian Rhythms and the Music of New Orleans project. Photo by Maxence Bradley.


Pew Fellows at Work

Black Futures
A new compendium of art and writing, edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham, features the work of several Pew Fellows, including essays by musician King Britt and multimedia artist Rasheedah Phillips, interviews with interdisciplinary artist Carolyn Lazard and visual artist and filmmaker Tiona Nekkia McClodden, and art by visual artist Jonathan Lyndon Chase, as well as many other Black thinkers and cultural practitioners. A New York Times review affirms that the book “succeeds in answering the incredibly heady question it poses for itself: What does it mean to be a Black person around the world, then, now or in the future?”

You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience
Pew Fellow Imani Perry contributed an essay to a new anthology, edited by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown, featuring essays by writers, organizers, artists, academics, and cultural figures on the concepts of vulnerability and shame resilience within the Black experience. Perry has written several books on Black historical topics, including May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem, Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, and More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States.

Stunting Garniture Set
The New Orleans Museum of Art commissioned ceramist and Pew Fellow Roberto Lugo to create a set of three ceramic pots inspired by the museum’s traditional collection of decorative vases. The pots feature influential New Orleans musicians Louis Armstrong and Lil Wayne and No Limit Records, an important New Orleans label. The set continues Lugo’s ongoing work incorporating contemporary iconography—namely people of color—into historical forms of decorative art. View the pots on the New Orleans Museum of Art website.

Sonia Sanchez and Major Jackson in Conversation
Last year, the Center published a conversation between poets and Pew Fellows Sonia Sanchez and Major Jackson. Sanchez spoke with Jackson, one of her former students, about the formative experiences that influenced her creative practice, her studies with poet Louise Bogan, and her legacy as a writer, teacher, and activist. Watch the video below. In 2015, Pew Fellows Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater directed BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, a documentary about Sanchez, which is available to stream in its entirety on the PBS website.


Questions of Practice: Poet Sonia Sanchez Discusses Her Creative Life and Legacy with Major Jackson [Full Interview]

Pew Fellows Sonia Sanchez and Major Jackson. Filmed at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage on April 25, 2017.


On the Horizon

Rising Sun – Artists and an Uncertain America
Two historic museums—the African American Museum in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts—will collaborate on a joint exhibition, taking inspiration from the metaphor of the “rising sun” as framed by James Weldon Johnson's “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and Benjamin Franklin. The museums will commission and present the work of 30 contemporary artists to address the canon of American art and provoke the necessary work of re-appraisal, reckoning, and repair as institutions and artists work together toward more equitable museum spaces. Participating artists include John Akomfrah, Tiffany Chung, Arlene Shechet, and Hank Willis Thomas.

Chronicling Resistance
A team of “Activist-Curator Fellows,” librarians, and Pew Fellow, poet, and educator Yolanda Wisher will bring Philadelphia’s history of civic action into context with present-day social justice movements. The research team for this Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation project will mine the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries’ (PACSCL) extensive archives related to community activism to make the archives more broadly accessible and cultivate a shared historical authority through exhibitions and other public programs. Originating with a Center Discovery grant in 2018, Chronicling Resistance has a history-rich website to explore already.

Pool: A Social History of Segregation
Set inside a now-vacant public pool at the Fairmount Water Works, site-specific installations will examine the history and present-day implications of segregated swimming pools in America. This multidisciplinary exhibition will survey the role of public pools within communities through newly commissioned, interactive artworks, stories collected from the public at pools throughout Philadelphia, and rarely seen archival film footage and photographs, as well as a new play written and directed by Pew Fellow James Ijames, staged throughout the former lanes of the Water Works pool.

The Tenants of Lenapehocking in the Age of Magnets
Scribe Video Center will produce a new documentary, written and directed by Pew Fellow Louis Massiah, on the history of North Philadelphia’s Black community from 1896, the year W.E.B. Du Bois began his research for The Philadelphia Negro, to 1968, the year the historically segregated Girard College admitted its first black students. The film will draw from oral accounts, photographs, and historical and contemporary studies of North Philadelphia’s people and land to provide new context to this community’s cultural history.

FringeArts will present a new contemporary chamber opera that tells the story of a 21st-century Black woman exploring her spirituality and purpose through the legacies of 19th-century Black women leaders: founder of Philadelphia’s Black Shaker movement Rebecca Cox Jackson and abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. The creative team will incorporate material from Philadelphia residents that considers the city’s history in engaging with social change movements.

7th Ward Tribute
Public art installations will tell a place-based account of the vibrant communities that made a Philadelphia neighborhood, once known as the city’s 7th Ward, an important center of Black culture. Artists will work with historians and community leaders and draw from the Philadelphia City Archives to create new public art pieces that contextualize the area’s rich, deeply rooted Black cultural history, to be situated around the historic neighborhood’s borders.



Milford Graves, Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal, 2020, installation view, presented by Ars Nova Workshop, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. Photo by Constance Mensh.


Looking Back

Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal
Best known for his influential work as a free jazz drummer, Milford Graves was a true polymath, with interest in visual art, activism, herbology, martial arts, and holistic medicine as well as music. An Ars Nova Workshop exhibition on Graves examined the full breadth of the artist’s multidisciplinary work—and how rhythm binds it all together. A virtual version of the exhibition is available on the Institute of Contemporary Art website. Graves passed away this month at the age of 79. Read The Guardian’s obituary.

Reconstruction and the Fourteenth Amendment Project
The National Constitution Center created FOURTEEN, a theatrical performance that sheds new light on the Reconstruction era and the ratification of the 14th Amendment through dramatic interpretation of original texts, such as Frederick Douglass’ open letter “To My Old Master.” Watch highlights from the performance on the Constitution Center website.

Grounds that Shout! (and others merely shaking)
A series of dance performances inside and around four historic Philadelphia churches, produced by Partners for Sacred Places in collaboration with Philadelphia Contemporary and choreographer Reggie Wilson, explored the layered histories of Philadelphia’s religious spaces and reflected on the interplay between movement and worship. Wilson spoke to Pew Fellow Yolanda Wisher about how the project considers the cultural traditions and memories held in sacred spaces, particularly African American churches, and how they can be “mined and excavated.” Watch their conversation:


Questions of Practice: Choreographer Reggie Wilson on the “Cultural Retentions” of Sacred Spaces

Choreographer Reggie Wilson discusses his approach to choreographing and curating dance in religious spaces. Filmed at Old Pine Street Church, Society Hill, Philadelphia on April 2, 2019.


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