On our minds

Sculptor chosen for Sojourner Truth monument at Walkway Over the Hudson

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth


A sculptor from Westchester County has been chosen to create a monument honoring Sojourner Truth, an Ulster County native who became one of the leading abolitionists and suffragettes of the 19th century. The monument, a 7-foot bronze statue, will be placed at the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, a pedestrian crossing on a former railroad bridge that links the town of Lloyd in Ulster County with the city of Poughkeepsie in Duchess County.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Vinnie Bagwell, of Yonkers, has been commissioned to create the monument commemorating Truth. Cuomo said Truth "helped blaze a trail for women and people of color across the country." Truth was born in Hurley in 1797 as Isabella Baumfree and was one of seven slaves owned by Johannes Hardenburgh. She was sold at about age 12 to John Ignatius Dumont, who operated a farm in what is now the town of Esopus.

Read the full article here.

‘Jean-Michel Basquiat’ at the Brant Shows His Bifurcated Life

A few years ago, a plaza in Paris was named after the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Brooklyn-born painter who became a global sensation in the early 1980s and died at 27 of a heroin overdose. No similar honor has been bestowed upon Basquiat by the City of New York. However, the opening of the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in the East Village, with an exhibition of nearly 70 works by Basquiat created from 1980 to 1987, serves as a fitting temporary shrine. The Brant in Manhattan is also part of a wave of private museums opening across the country, including the Hill Art Foundation in Chelsea; the expansion of Glenstone in Maryland; and the Marciano and Broad collections in Los Angeles.

But first, Basquiat. The story of this painter of Haitian and Puerto-Rican descent is one of the most documented in contemporary art history. Basquiat moved to Manhattan — partly to escape his strict accountant father — couch-surfed, lived off girlfriends and formed a post-punk band called Gray after “Gray’s Anatomy.” He sprayed poetic, enigmatic graffiti on walls in downtown Manhattan before moving to canvas and starred in an independent film, “Downtown 81.” He dated Madonna before she was famous and made paintings with his hero-turned-friend, Andy Warhol.

Basquiat was also part of a group of Neo-Expressionists that were largely rejected by critics interested in photography, video and conceptual art — but embraced by a popular audience and a surging art market, where he often felt treated like a faux-primitive genius, which he found racist and demeaning. And yet, this seemed to fuel his work — and the anger in it — toward greater heights, forging a brand of African-American history painting that addressed everything from cultural figures to black policemen. His reputation has grown posthumously and in 2017 one of his paintings sold at auction for a record $110.5 million to a Japanese billionaire.

Read the full article here.

Personal Problems presented by Ishmael Reed and Steve Cannon

Produced by non other than the famous Ishmael Reed and the un famous Steve Cannon. The many award winning writer Ishmael Reed and the no award winning writer Steve Cannon. The full movie is now available on kanopy.com. Click here to see the full movie.


The recent release of Bill Gunn's Personal Problems (Kino Lorber) marks a major intervention in correcting this limited history. Not much has been written about it. Nicholas Forster, a PhD student at Yale University, is writing the first biography of Bill Gunn. The few writings about Personal Problems understandably position it in an auteurist framework of Gunn's oeuvre since he has been neglected by film history. Yet the Blu-ray release of Personal Problems can also be seen as a major intervention in recovering "lost" videotapes representing an important black collective creative contribution of US grassroots videomaking.

As film and media historians like David James, Chon Noreiga, Devorah Heitner, and Cynthia A. Young have chronicled ethnic cinemas and media proliferated within the United States throughout the '60s and '70s in the wake of anti-colonial global resistance, Third Cinema endeavors, the civil rights movement, and student upheaval. The recently established Ethno-Communications Program at UCLA provides fertile terrain for the development of many skilled black filmmakers like Charles Burnett, Billy Woodberry, Julie Dash, and Haile Gerima. But even more broadly, the Black Arts Movement, the Chicano Arts Movement, the American Indian Movement, among many others, inject youth with a desire to produce new artistic forms that not only better reflected their communities, but also were more intertwined with and produced by those communities.

So when Ishmael Reed, Steve Cannon, and Joe Johnson formed a small publishing house named Reed, Cannon, and Johnson Communications Co. to publish and distribute the works by black and other underrepresented authors, they were only one among a sea of independent ventures made by those coming from communities of color to own the creative means of production that allowed for a more diverse art and literature to spread beyond the confines that traditional cultural gatekeepers allowed. As time progressed, Reed suggested creating a black meta soap opera radio play since Steven Cannon hosted a show on WBAI in New York City and Reed hosted a show on KQED in California, where it could be broadcast. According to Cannon on a Blu-ray extra, "We were dissatisfied with the kind of stuff that was coming out of Hollywood, that Blaxploitation, Super Fly and that kind of bullshit. We wanted to do something ... more authentic and more realistic in terms of middle-class black people."

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NYC Has Just 5 Statues Of Historic Women. That's About To Change

There are hundreds of statues in New York City. But once you remove the ones in which female figures represent Liberty, Freedom, etc., just five sculptures depict actual historical women. (In case you're wondering: Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.)

An initiative announced earlier this year called She Built NYC aims to change that dismal figure, by commissioning and installing new public monuments that honor women. Now, the city just named its first subject: Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress.

The last few years have brought tremendous scrutiny to statues and monuments in the U.S. According to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 100 monuments and symbols of the Confederacy have been removed since 2015.

The push to remove statues that honor figures or causes that don't square with modern mores has been accompanied by efforts, like New York City's, to erect more monuments to women and minorities.

Read the full article here.

A Blind Publisher, Poet — and Link to the Lower East Side’s Cultural History

ONE AFTERNOON LAST fall, Steve Cannon — who is also known as Professor Steve, the only blind gallery owner in the history of New York and, in the words of his friend Ishmael Reed, “the emperor of the Lower East Side” — was sitting on the couch in his small East Village apartment, wearing Mardi Gras beads over a sweater, his glaucoma-clouded eyes covered by sunglasses. He was talking about how he decided to start the arts organization A Gathering of the Tribes, a magazine and former gallery that is a kind of manifestation of Cannon himself.

The idea came to him one night in 1990 at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, which was a block away from the building he owned at the time on East Third Street. The Nuyorican opened down the street in 1981, and by 1990 its poetry slams had become a downtown sensation. Cannon, the author of the legendary but little-read 1969 book “Groove, Bang and Jive Around,” which Reed calls a “pre-rap novel” that predicted the spoken-word style that was flourishing at the Nuyorican in the late ’80s, was the club’s resident heckler, shouting at hesitant performers to get on with it and “read the goddamn poem.”

He was there with his friend David Hammons, a renowned artist so famously reclusive and unreachable that the very idea of him having a friend seems strange, like trying to imagine Thomas Pynchon buying toilet paper. Cannon and Hammons met on a park bench in the late ’70s, a few years after Hammons arrived in New York from the West Coast and began making mordant, provocative sculptures that dealt with black identity, using discarded materials he gathered around the city. A gardening spade with chains dangling from it lampooned racist terminology; bottle caps gathered from bars were used to adorn comically tall basketball hoops in a 1986 public installation called “Higher Goals”; hair swept from the floors of black barbershops became a leitmotif of many sculptures and installations. Hammons would often find these materials on long walks from his studio in Harlem all the way downtown, where Cannon’s house was a regular stop.

Read the full article here.

Darius James’s Antic Satire of American Racism

Darius James. (Photo by Graham Hains)

Darius James. (Photo by Graham Hains)

This month, the NYRB Classics series has released a new edition of Negrophobia. In most other years, this would have been a provocation: inserting the perverted and the grotesque into the four weeks of the year reserved for solemn quotations of Langston Hughes and committed misreadings of Martin Luther King Jr. But this year, the release seems more like an echo. February began with a famous actor confessing that he’d once walked the streets hoping to kill a black stranger (believing all black men to be implicated in his friend’s rape); a few weeks later, we had to imagine how and why a different actor might have staged his own lynching; and then there was Gucci, and Green Book, and… Virginia. The shadow of Sambo behind Bubbles on the cover isn’t a faded image from the past; it’s a projection in the back of her mind. Darius James asks: Is that funny?

The controversy around the 1992 cover became part of the book’s promotional strategy, with the Times and The Village Voice weighing in, all highlighting Washington’s complaint after being tipped off by the publisher’s PR department. It was also a kind of induction ceremony for James into the institutional irreverence of the Lower East Side writers and artists whose company he kept, writing screenplays for their movies and short stories for their magazines. As he hopped between the bohemian scenes in New York City, his native New Haven, and Berlin, his fellow provocateurs included Kathy Acker, who read the first few pages of the book and insisted that he finish it, and Paul Beatty, who fell into a now-familiar fracas over the cover of his humor collection Hokum(in which selections from Negrophobia appeared).

Later that decade, another of James’s friends, the artist Kara Walker, won the MacArthur “genius” grant for her graphic silhouettes of plantation scenes. Almost immediately, Walker became the object of fierce criticism and more than one letter-writing campaign by a group of older black feminist artists who, like Florence Washington, believed in the principles of black uplift. Walker’s output was “revolting and negative,” these critics proclaimed; in her works, they saw “African-Americans being betrayed under the guise of art.”

Read the full article here.

Filmmaker’s Incubator –Firelight Documentary Lab – Sends Two Films to Sundance: “Always in Season” and “Words from a Bear”

Filmmaker’s Incubator –Firelight Documentary Lab – Sends Two Films to Sundance: “Always in Season” and “Words from a Bear”

New York, NY – November 30, 2018 – Stanley Nelson’s much anticipated film on the life of jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, his company Firelight Films announced today. Produced with Eagle Rock Entertainment and American Masters Pictures, MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOLis a definitive account of the man behind the legend.

In addition, two fellows of Nelson’s Documentary Lab, an incubator that supports and mentors filmmakers of color, will be in competition at Sundance: ALWAYS IN SEASON, directed and produced by Jacqueline Olive, which explores the history and legacy of African American lynchings, and WORDS FROM A BEAR, director and producer Jeffrey Palmer’s examination of the Native American writer N. Scott Momaday.

"Oscars 2019: 'Green Book' is worst best picture winner since 'Crash'" - Justin Chang

Viggo Mortensen left, as Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Donald Shirley in "Green Book," directed by Peter Farrelly. (Universal Pictures /Participant)

Viggo Mortensen left, as Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Donald Shirley in "Green Book," directed by Peter Farrelly. (Universal Pictures /Participant)

by Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

Green Book” the worst best picture Oscar winner since “Crash,” and I don’t make the comparison lightly.

Like that 2005 movie, Peter Farrelly’s interracial buddy dramedy is insultingly glib and hucksterish, a self-satisfied crock masquerading as an olive branch. It reduces the long, barbaric and ongoing history of American racism to a problem, a formula, a dramatic equation that can be balanced and solved. “Green Book” is an embarrassment; the film industry’s unquestioning embrace of it is another.

Read the entire article here.

L.E.S.P.I. presents "Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side" A Contemporary Photography Exhibit

tribes feb 27 post LESPI.jpg

Curated by: Carolyn Ratcliffe and Corky Lee

Contributors: Corky Lee, An Rong Xu, Edward Chen, Karen Zhou, Jook Leung

March 4 - March 26, 2019

Opening Reception and Book Launch: Tuesday March 5,  5:30-7:30pm

New York Arts Center, 78 Bowery, New York, NY

Monday - Friday 10:00am - 5:00pm, Saturdays 11:00am - 3:00pm

This contemporary photography exhibit is based on the work showcased in Lower East Side Preservation Initiative's recent book, "Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side,"  a collection of beautiful photographs of Chinatown's historic core - from Canal to Worth Street, Baxter to the Bowery.  The photographs capture the spirit of today's residents, workers, and visitors against a backdrop of the area's rich and wonderful historic buildings.  The book, accompanied by a lively local history, is intended to show how the neighborhood's streetscapes are not only beautiful and irreplaceable, but also serve to enrich and enliven everyday modern life.  Chinatown's streetscapes are now in danger: if the city does not protect them through landmarking or other means they will fall prey to demolition and overdevelopment. 

Read more about this exhibit on the L.E.S.P.I. website here.

Upcoming Fly By Night Press release: LIVING WITHOUT SKIN by Gabriel Don

Upcoming Fly By Night Press release: LIVING WITHOUT SKIN by Gabriel Don

This is Gabriel Don. Her light cannot be kept in a jar. Her words turn lead into gold. Don’t mess with her babies — she will G check you without a posse. She is Queen Elizabeth I encamped at Tilbury, she is Isis piecing Osiris together, she is dangerous and vulnerable and powerful. Powerful because vulnerable. This is Gabriel Don’s first collection and she doesn’t mean business; she means “Oh Henry you can’t be so clumsy with your cock.” Don’t let the politeness fool you.

- Sharon Mesmer, Polish-American poet, fiction writer, essayist and professor of creative writing

MoMA to Close, Then Open Doors to More Expansive View of Art (New York Times)

MoMA to Close, Then Open Doors to More Expansive View of Art (New York Times)

As the Museum of Modern Art begins the final stage of its $400 million overhaul, it will close for four months this summer and autumn to reconfigure its galleries, rehang the entire collection and rethink the way that the story of modern and contemporary art is presented to the public.