New Labor Movements Offers Interpretive Visions of America and Black Life by Contemporary Filmmakers

Kevin Jerome Everson and Claudrena N. Harold, Hampton, 2019, 16mm transferred to digital, black-and-white, sound, 6:33 mins.
© Kevin Jerome Everson & Claudrena N. Harold; courtesy the artists; Trilobite-Arts DAC; Black Fire UVA; Picture Palace Pictures

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, September 1, 2020 — Curated by Bay Area artist and educator Leila Weefur and presented in McEvoy Foundation for the Arts’ Screening Room, New Labor Movements is a collection of short films that explore contemporary visions of America and concepts of transnational Blackness. Through a compositional discourse played out in four hour-long “movements” featuring fifteen films by seventeen artists, the program navigates the philosophical, psychological, and emotional landscapes that manifest in the lives of slavery’s descendants and those living in the aftermath of slavery’s indirect, proximal effects. The program was commissioned on the occasion of the West Coast premiere of Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour at McEvoy Arts (October 14, 2020 – March 13, 2021). Movements I and II open at McEvoy Arts on October 14. Movements III and IV premiere in 2021.

Weefur organized New Labor Movements to consider the question of “What is America today?” as inspired by Lessons of the Hour, Julien’s immersive film installation and photography exhibition on the life and impact of Frederick Douglass. The act ofmovement is a structurally fluid principle that shapes the program in multiple coded ways, depending on the viewer. Chief among them are movements in film construction and narrative; in the distribution of labor and power; in reference to the trans-Atlantic movements of goods, capital, and people; and as it references the one’s movement through a gallery or in a theater. Weefur’s curation of these films prioritizes displays of movement as more of an experiential truth rather than a reactive condition. Just as we are living through an unpredictable emotional landscape, the films gracefully shift pace, matching the current political unrest with a poetic volatility. 

Weefur states that “the included filmmakers measure movement with distinct cinematic voices and varied cinematic instruments, from high contrast black and white celluloid and archival imagery to refined HD digital pictures. Evidenced in the selection of films are thoughtful articulations of movement that reveal the nuance of global political critique and a profound broadness of Black life across borders.” Taken together with the multi-sensorial, meditative qualities of Lessons, the program engineers a gender diverse, intergenerational dialogue amongst filmmakers that explores the creation of cinematic narrative and Black political history.

Movement I: Assembly presents five films that orient the viewer to linkages between the creation of Diasporic history and collective experience. Assembly is introduced by the 16mm black-and-white shots of an African American gospel choir in Kevin Jerome Everson and Claudrena Harold’s elegiac Hampton (2019) and also includes works by Garrett Bradley, Christopher Harris, Onyeka Igwe, and Mitch McCabe. Across three films by Eden Tinto Collins and Adrien Gystere Peskine, Lonnie Holley and Cyrus Moussavi, and Morgan Quaintance, Movement II: Resistance/Selfhood identifies realizations of the self within societal narratives of struggle and triumph. The struggle is acutely seen in Holley and Moussavi’s I Snuck Off the Slave Ship (2019), which finds the self-taught African American artist and dimensional traveler attempting to sneak off the slave ship America in a metaphor for Black transcendence. Woven throughout the two movements are the visions of Black ancestors, elders, and children, coalescing into a visual guide to reconsider movements as acts of power, liberation, and achievement.

Assembly and Resistance/Selfhood screen daily in 2020. Movements III and IV, as well as additional programs in conjunction with New Labor Movements, are to be announced.

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