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Undeniably Experimental, Undeniably Black: Bay Area Curatorial Collective the Black Aesthetic


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Art in America has a profile of the Black Aesthetic (TBA), a fluid collective of young black artists, writers, and curators based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Taking their inspiration from forbearers such as the Black Arts Movement and Arthur Jafa, TBA has organized film screenings in DIY spaces, and they recently curated “Black Interiors,” a film series at Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive. As the profile highlights, TBA are driven by a desire to uncover and present unapologetically experimental black art, both new and old. The profile was written by Kevin Killian, a longtime fixture in the Bay Area experimental writing scene. Here’s an excerpt:

[The Black Aesthetic] initially commanded attention when its founders, cousins Ryanaustin Dennis and Christian Johnson, began to program a series of black films after hours in the tiny Wolfman Books in downtown Oakland, close to the 12th Street BART station and in the shadow of City Hall. From the very first event in 2016, a screening of Cauleen Smith’s Drylongso (1998), news spread by word of mouth. A nice handful, then a roomful and more, of black cineasts came together. When the lights came on, the audience would “circle up,” as Dennis recalled; people broke down the rows of chairs and rearranged themselves in the round. A respondent jumped in to deliver prepared remarks, and then a torrent of speech burst forth, some voices in awe, some in sheer pleasure. “It was the feeling of community,” said Malika “Ra” Imhotep, a graduate student in the University of California, Berkeley’s department of African American studies and now one of the film series’ organizers. “I’d seen Drylongso before, but watching it alone, on Vimeo, what a different experience from seeing it on the screen, with a live audience, with others.”

Image: Exhibition view, “Vanguard Revisited: Poetic Politics & Black Futures,” San Francisco Art Institute, 2019. Via Art in America.