“Black Girl: Linguistic Play”

Doing anything Friday night? How about hanging out on 82nd Avenue?

The East Side strip, which runs north-south for many miles, was once considered a barrier of sorts between the city and the sprawl, and also an economic barrier, with a richer urban population to the west and a poorer, semi-rural population to the east. East County didn’t get in the game very much, and when it did, it was often as a political football. 82nd became neon central, home to everything from used car lots to Southeast Asian restaurants to massage parlors – and, increasingly, a rich stew of ethnic and immigrant cultures.

Signs of the times: Sabina Haque's 82nd Avenue.

Signs of the times: Sabina Haque’s 82nd Avenue.

That’s what makes it interesting to Portland artist Sabina Haque, a very good painter and collagist whose work in recent years has moved also toward installation, film, and cultural and cross-cultural projects, including her provocative series on drone warfare in Pakistan, where she grew up.

Haque, as artist in residence for the Portland Archives & Records Center, has been digging deeply into the area’s long and complicated history, finding a cultural through-line to match the strip of concrete that divides culture from culture and east from west. From 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday she’ll unveil what she’s created in Annexation & Assimilation: East 82nd Ave, a giant exhibition/event in the 8,000-square-foot APANO/JADE multicultural center at 82nd and Southeast Division Street. The free event will include video projections on 20-foot screens, oral histories, shadow theater, poster installations and more – for some, a rousing introduction to a part of Portland they hardly know; to others, a simple statement of the place they live.

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Choreographer Camille A. Brown asks: ‘What is so uncomfortable about a black girl playing?’

White Bird brings Camille A. Brown & Dancers to town for some playground games—and some sharing of black culture

In the Q&A after the opening night performance of “Black Girl: Linguistic Play,” Camille A. Brown was asked whether she thought it was easier or harder to engage racial issues in her performances in the “current political climate,” a phrase which sent a distressed chuckle through the audience.

She joked that when the title was just “Black Girl,” she assumed she wouldn’t have a tour. She imagined a genteel couple picking what they wanted to do on a Friday night and shying away from the performance called “Black Girl.” Who wants to think about that on your night out? “We live in a post-racial world, anyway,” Brown quipped, to another uneasy chuckle. To answer the original question, Brown asked another, simple question. What, exactly, is so uncomfortable about a black girl playing?

She’s made my job as a reviewer rather easy, in fact, by naming her show after exactly what it is about: the language behind some of the ways that black girls play. The thesis of this show is that there is legitimate language of movement that has been passed down through a rich cultural history that can be found in traditional schoolyard and side-street games played by girls, frequently black girls. Further: That’s worth watching, and it deserves more space.

Camille A. Brown and Catherine Foster in "Black Girl: Linguistic Play"/Photo by Christopher Duggan courtesy White Bird

Camille A. Brown and Catherine Foster in “Black Girl: Linguistic Play”/Photo by Christopher Duggan courtesy White Bird

If you have a sideways, gut feeling that the show will be “racially charged” or “confrontational,” I can tell you that it will only feel that way if you are uncomfortable with the idea of giving this particular form of dance a stage and engaging with it from the perspective of contemporary dance. PICA’s TBA Festival has brought performers from around the world who have done the same thing with the folk dances that informed their upbringing—Brown’s just doing it with a folk tradition that thrives in our playgrounds and city streets.

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