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Négritude, an Experimental Multi-disciplinary Exhibition at Exit Art, Opens in May

NEW YORK, NY.- Négritude, an experimental multi-disciplinary exhibition at Exit Art, explores the visionary 20th century political and artistic movement of the same name — coined by the Martinican poet, playwright, and politician Aimé Césaire in the 1930s — which flourished among Black intellectuals in post-World War I Paris and later spread to Africa, the United States and the Caribbean.

This exhibition seeks to define Négritude as an “archipelago”, with many “islands”, or perspectives. Négritude is an idea that developed in distinct ways in different countries due, in part, to language, culture, and the political climate. Exit Art — to reflect this diversity and to offer varying perspectives — invited four other individuals to organize this project in collaboration.

Négritude includes different “islands” created and produced by five individuals who are curators, cultural critics, scholars, filmmakers and artists, representing African-American, African, Caribbean and South American cultures. Over the course of several months, these individuals met to share their ideas and develop their “islands.” Each person was asked to curate their “island” of Négritude by presenting an exhibition of visual art; film screenings; music; performances; and/or public activities that detail their own experience, interest, or study of Négritude.

Négritude was a celebration of shared black heritage and an affirmation and valorization of pan-African identity and was a direct response to the effects of the African slave trade, French colonization of West Africa, and the New World plantation system. The beginnings of the Afro-Caribbean movement can be traced to literary movements in Puerto Rico and Cuba through the writing of Puerto Rican poet Luis Pales Matos, whose poem “Black Town” was published in 1927, and the Cuban Nicolas Guillen, although Cesaire's version of Négritude would eventually eclipse them. Under the influence of Césaire, the Guianan Léon Damas, and Léopold Sédar Senghor, the future president of Senegal, Négritude became a global movement, ultimately becoming radicalized and re-envisioned as a strict rejection of the domination of “the West”.

Showcasing several generations of African-American, Caribbean, South American and African artists, performers and writers, Négritude features work that examines the history, impact, and transmutations of this cultural movement. It looks beyond the historical Négritude movement to investigate also the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance and Modernism in the 1920s and 30s and contemporary responses to the concept of “blackness, highlighting the post-Civil Rights generation of black artists who have new perspectives on racial identity and politics.

Through a series of mini-exhibitions, film screenings, performances, readings, stories and discussions, Exit Art will examine the historical effects and contemporary impact of Négritude by exploring its archipelago, island by island.

Conceived by Papo Colo. Produced by Papo Colo, Tânia Cypriano, Rose Réjouis, Franklin Sirmans, and Greg Tate.

Papo Colo’s “island” uses live cotton and sugar plants to reference two of the earliest slave-grown commodities in the Americas, and will involve the participation of students in the process of creating his installation. Stacks of paper, printed with the images of Négritude icons such as Malcolm X, Pelé and President Barack Obama, will be included on the “island.” In partnership with New York area schools, students will be invited to choose their “favorite” icon and fold his or her image into a paper airplane or boat that will be placed in the installation with the artist’s intervention.

Tânia Cypriano explores Afro-Brazilian culture through a ten-week screening series that touches on topics from capoeira to samba, Quilombos to religion, racism in soap operas to the globalization theories of philosopher Milton Santos. Her exhibition features works by renowned photographer Mario Cravo Neto – a resident of Bahia, Brazil and a follower of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion – among other works.

Rose Réjouis argues that Négritude, as Aimé Césaire envisioned it, was a form of “dark play” (to use a term by Richard Schechner). Relying on the safety net of literary French, the language in which he wrote his poetry, Césaire recycled negative stereotypes of black people while recovering new ground for self-affirmation. Réjouis explores this notion through her exhibition, which includes artists Wura-Natasha Ogunji and Haitian-American artist Vladimir Cybil Charlier-Juste, and performances by African-Hungarian music group Dallam-Dougou and poet Saul Williams.

Greg Tate presents a three-room “Black Mystery Anti-Panopticon,” envisioning Négritude as a “place” for mystery and funk, music and soul. A DJ shrine, created by Tate and the artists Xaviera Simmons and Arthur Jafa, will provide a site for weekly performances; a raised stage outfitted with a drum kit, microphones, and amps will be used for occasional live music; and an exhibition of visionary black artists – including Thornton Dial, Jr., Thornton Dial, Sr., and Lonnie Holley – coupled with laminated pages from the books Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art, Vols. 1 and 2, will create a “conjuration room where willing spirits can come to get toasted, roasted, and lit the fuck up.”

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