This week's iteration of the "Question Bridge: Black Males" conversation series, held on Wednesday, October 15, was themed "Community Art Perspective," with a panel featuring artist and community arts organizer, Shawn Dunwoody; filmmaker and president of UTCHAT VISION, Shabaka Mu Ausar; and dancer and founder-artistic director of PeaceArt International, Thomas Warfield. Each of the panelists use their roles as leaders in the Rochester art community to educate and facilitate crucial change. The space felt fairly full, with 30-35 attendees of all walks and ages (seriously, there were little kids in the front row, elders scattered around, and quite a few young adults).
The loose discussion was premised with about eight minutes from the "Question Bridge: Black Males" video, after which the panelists transitioned into an exploration of what "Black" identity is and is not, as separate or part of "African" or "American."
All of those who commented, including members of the audience, engaged in a nuanced attempt to pinpoint and frame exactly what are the largest roadblocks on the path of healthy progress toward people coming together.
The group kept returning to the fact that we are all, as a nation, so focused on specific, painful recent fragments of the Black story, that we have a severe misunderstanding of what people of African descent have always offered the world, in terms of invention, ingenuity, and art, from the ancient world, throughout the age of slavery, to the present day.
By framing Black experience in such limited terms, the nation maintains a status quo that benefits some and holds the majority down. "Society perpetuates lies to hold the country in the same place," said Ausar, whose own art and education of others comprise his efforts to help untold stories emerge into the spotlight.
Dunwoody also works in the field of film, through his Real 2 Reel film festival, which is in its 8th year. He also spends his time creating public art, many of which are murals created with children that put positive messages of empowerment in direct view of Rochesterians who arguably need to see them the most.
During the talk, Dunwoody oscillated between flexing a sharp wit to tease various members of the audience, and expressing frustration with the heady, detached, intellectualism of art movements. His primary message was to issue a challenge for everyone to do something tangible in their communities, even if it was as simple as openly greeting another human being.
Warfield's beautiful meditation on creativity as an exploration of the true self, separate from group identity and in line with discovering an individual purpose, was heartening. "Being creative allows you to explore yourself in a ways that belonging to this/that/the other thing won't," he said. "What is it about you that the world needs?" The discovery of self-truth is the place where the change happens, he said. The group won't change without inspiring individuals -- "and that is our responsibility."
Next week's conversation will be held Wednesday, October 22, at 7 p.m., featuring Mayor Lovely Warren. Topic TBA. All discussions in the series are held at Rochester Contemporary Art Center (137 East Ave., 461-2222, rochestercontemporary.org).