The Voices and Visions Re-imagining America Media Exhibition at the recent Imagining America national conference in New York City presented the work of artists and artist collectives whose practices articulate the mission of Imagining America by thriving in and contributing to community-based action and revitalization. The program was divided between two screening rooms, focusing on the strategy and practice of community-based art work.
The first room, “Visions,” presented documentation of tactics used to engage with a variety of publics to initiate dialogue and catalyze meaningful change. Featuring the work of Meta Local Collaborative, Ghana Think Tank, The Laundromat Project, The Tax Dodgers, and Housing is a Human Right, this program looked at the strategies that a diverse group of artists use to collaborate with different communities, instigating broad conversations about history, culture, and politics.
The second room, “Voices,” presented the work of Kanene Holder, Ana Garcia-Rockafella, La Bruja, Michael Paul Britto, and Zachary Fabri, showcasing the product of community-based artistic practices. The works presented in this program emerged from long-standing relationships between artists and their communities, and demonstrated the power of large-scale collaboration in production, performance, and design.
In addition, monitors in the atrium of the screening rooms featured the work of youth from the Global Action Project, and the artist Shani Peters.
All of the artists and artist collectives whose work was presented in the Voices and Visions Media Exhibition occupy a complex place between the art world, activism, and social practice. Their work presents actionable strategies to achieve Imagining America’s ambitious vision of an enriched civic life, facilitated by publicly engaged artists, designers, scholars, and other community members working with institutions of higher education.
About the Curators
Bill Aguado was the Executive Director of the Bronx Council on the Arts, 1981–2009. His accomplishments were many over the years as the influential force behind many of BCA’s more successful and noteworthy programs. Among them, The Longwood Art Gallery, one of New York City’s oldest and longest running alternative spaces, and BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) is a twenty-year independent artist fellowship program offering 25 fellowships to Bronx artists. In 2000, he was the recipient of the Governor’s Arts Award. He is also the recipient of the Mayor’s Arts Award in 2006, and most recently he received the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Service to Artists at the 38th annual Skowhegan Awards Dinner in April 2009.
Kanene Holder is an avant-garde performance-artist, poet, photographer and chronic-contrarian, educator, and spokesperson for the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Her newest political satire, Searching for American Justice, premiered for NYU’s LowLives festival.
Elizabeth Hamby is an artist and an educator, working in a complex space between the studio, the classroom, and the city. Using drawing, video, installation, and participatory workshops, she explores the dynamics of place and the rhythms of everyday urban experience. She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally. She teaches at the Museum of the City of New York, Millennium Art Academy, and The Drawing Center. She holds a BA in Cultural Studies and Philosophy from Eugene Lang College and a BFA in Studio Art from Parsons School of Design.
Hatuey Ramos-Fermín is an educator, multimedia artist and curator who uses photography, video, installation, graphics, performance, interventions, maps, audio, collaborations, social and curatorial practices to creatively investigate issues related to urban spaces. He is interested in articulating conceptual ideas regarding our society into thought-provoking critical language using a combination of documentary and fine arts practices. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally.
About the Artists
Michael Paul Britto‘s work ranges from videos to digital photography, sculpture, and performance. Britto has had residencies at the New Museum, as well as Smack Mellon and The Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation in New York. Britto’s work has been featured in shows at El Museo del Barrio, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The Zacheta National Gallery, Warsaw; Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, Louisville; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Britto has been written about in The New York Times, Art In America, and The Brooklyn Rail.
La Bruja has numerous acting credits, spoken-word performances, and hip-hop albums. Her presentations span television, theater, and film, such as HBO Latino, The History Channel, public service spots for Americans for the Arts, and Spike Lee’s commercials for IAM.com. She has recorded with Fat Joe, Vivian Green, Jadakiss, Don Dinero, The Jungle Brothers, Black Ice, B-Real, Tony Touch, Afrikaa Bambaata, Chingo Bling, Hurricane G, Boy Wonder, and The X-ecutioners. La Bruja released her debut album Brujalicious in 2005 on De La Luz Records. La Bruja is a dedicated artist-activist, who frequently performs at schools, universities, hospitals, and community centers around the country.
Focusing on video and performance, Zachary Fabri‘s work seeks to create a space for discourse around social and political systems of oppression. In addition to video, he also incorporates various media, including photography, sculpture, drawing, and installation into his work, which often responds to a specific environment or context.
Ana Garcia-Rockafella is a female breakdancer (B Girl Rokafella) who co-founded Full Circle Productions, Inc. in 1996 with her husband Kwikstep. Their mission has been to present uplifting Hip-Hop dance performances and provide educational Hip-Hop dance programming throughout NYC. The only Hip-Hop dance company of its kind in NY, Full Circle proudly references its roots and style to street performing. In the span of its near-two-decades’ existence, Full Circle has gone from hosting international contemporary companies for exchange to representing Hip-Hop at places once intangible to the street vibe, such as The Library of Congress in Washington D.C., where they have the credit of being the first Hip-Hop group to grace the stage.
Founded in 2006, Ghana Think Tank is a worldwide network of think tanks creating strategies to resolve local problems in the “developed” world. The network began with think tanks from Ghana, Cuba and El Salvador, and has since expanded to include Serbia, Mexico, and Ethiopia. In a recent project, GTT sent problems collected in Wales to think tanks in Ghana, Mexico, Serbia, Iran, and a group of incarcerated girls in the U.S. Prison system.
Global Action Project works with young people most affected by injustice to build the knowledge, tools, and relationships needed to create media for community power, cultural expression, and political change. GAP has provided media-arts and leadership education for thousands of youth living in under-served communities across New York City and the country.
Housing is a Human Right is a creative storytelling project that aims to help connect diverse communities around housing, land, and the dignity of a place to call home. We create a space for people to share stories of their community and ongoing experiences trying to obtain or maintain a place to call Home. We are building a collection of intimate, viscerally honest narratives exploring the complex fabric of community and the human right to housing and land, painting a living portrait of human rights.
The Laundromat Project is a community-based non-profit arts organization committed to the well-being of people of color living on low incomes. Understanding that creativity is a central component of healthy human beings, vibrant neighborhoods, and thriving economies, we bring arts programs to where our neighbors already are: the local laundromat. In this way, we aim to raise the quality of life in New York City for people whose incomes do not guarantee broad access to mainstream arts and cultural facilities.
Meta Local Collaborative develops site-specific, participatory works that refer to the complexity of their community in the South Bronx and beyond. By actively engaging a broad range of people and working across disciplines, Meta Local challenges the existing hierarchies, inclusions, and exclusions that characterize “participation” in the larger democracy of New York City.
Shani Peters is a New York based artist working in video, collage, printmaking, and social practice public projects. She is interested in collective movement, cyclical patterns throughout history and generations, and cultural record keeping and accessibility. Her work examines histories in the focused context of present societal conditions, and re-presents them in manners consciously influenced by a hyper-mediated society. Her perspective is heavily informed by her family and by the historical era in which she lives. Peters was born into the me generation of the socially conservative 1980s by way of faithful Black Power era parents who live by a mantra of social responsibility. The intersections of these influences, combined with that of contemporary life’s constant media program, produces work dense with appropriated material (both highly recognizable and commonly overlooked), contradictory notions, and always with an eye towards realities yet unseen. She layers ideas and references through video, print, and public projects in an attempt to push back her own program—a new account, or record of existence.
The Tax Dodgers is a high-impact media spectacle that is able to show up anywhere real corporate tax dodgers do, and immediately attach itself to their “brand.” It works on corporations, lobbyists, and politicians. Because of the creativity, humor, and, of course, the massive popularity of baseball, the message sticks. Whoever they “go to bat for” is immediately re-branded as a Tax Dodger.