Combahee Experimental: Black Women’s Experimental Filmmaking — Filmmaking in Troubled Times
October 7, 2020
6 PM (EDT)
FREE and open to public
The Program in Visual Arts presents a series of conversations and film screenings that celebrate the work of Black women filmmakers and their unique cinematic contributions to contemporary visual culture. Co-curated by award-winning multi-media artist Simone Leigh and Black feminist theorist of visual culture and contemporary art Tina Campt, the series extends a collaboration begun with the 2018 Loophole of Retreat conference convened at the Guggenheim Museum as a commitment to using public programming platforms to highlight the creative, artistic, and intellectual labor of Black women.
Filmmakers Julie Dash, Zeinabu irene Davis, and Barbara McCullough, pioneering artists whose early work created in the context of this movement has until recently been overlooked and undervalued, join in conversation with Angela Davis and series co-curator, Simone Leigh. The discussion will be followed by a screening of a selection of early works from the women of the LA Rebellion movement.
Dash, Illusions (1982)
McCullough, Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification (1979)
Camille Billops and James Hatch, Suzanne, Suzanne (1982)
Zeinabu irene Davis, Cycles (1989)
October 22 at 6 PM — The Black Surreal
Nuotama Bodomo and Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich in conversation with curators Tina Campt and Simone Leigh followed by a screening of selected works.
Hunt-Ehrlich, Spit on the Broom (2019) and Outfox the Grave (2020)
Bodomo, Afronauts (2014) and Boneshaker (2014)
October 29 at 6 PM — Experiments in Narrative
Garrett Bradley and Rungano Nyoni in conversation with curators Tina Campt and Simone Leigh followed by a screening of selected works.
Bradley, Alone (2017)
Nyoni, I Am Not a Witch (2017)
JOIN THE EVENTS
Each event is FREE and open to the public and will take place virtually on Zoom Webinar. Registration is required and advance registration is encouraged.
The series conversations will include live closed captions in English. Rather than registering for the Zoom Webinar, interested patrons should connect directly to the captioned event through StreamText. Reference these instructions for accessing and using StreamText (PDF).
If you are in need of other access accommodations in order to participate in this event, please contact the Lewis Center at 609-258-5262 or email LewisCenter@princeton.edu at least 2 weeks in advance of the event date.
The series is presented by the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual Arts and Princeton University’s Department of Art and Archaeology with additional support through the John Sacret Young ’69 Lecture Series fund.
*Banner image: Still from the film ‘Cycles’ (1989), by Zeinabu irene Davis
Twenty-nine years ago, filmmaker JULIE DASH broke through racial and gender boundaries with her Sundance award-winning film (Best Cinematography) Daughters of the Dust, and she became the first African American woman to have a wide theatrical release of her feature film. In 2004, The Library of Congress placed Daughters of the Dust in the National Film Registry where it joins a select group of American films preserved and protected as national treasures by the Librarian of Congress.
Julie Dash is the recent recipient of the Special Award at the 82nd New York Film Critics Circle, the 2017 Women & Hollywood Trailblazer Award, the 2017 New York Women in Film & Television MUSE Award, The Ebert Award, and she was inducted into the Penn Cultural Center’s 1862 Circle on St. Helena Island.
Dash directed multiple episodes of the award-winning dramatic series, Queen Sugar, Season 2, created and produced by Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey, for OWN Television; and she hosted The Golden Years, a limited series for Turner Classic Movies.
Dash was a Filmmaker’s Lab Governor at the Toronto International Film Festival and screened at the Smithsonian’s First African American Film Festival. She has written and directed for CBS, BET, ENCORE STARZ, SHOWTIME, MTV Movies, HBO, and OWN Television. She directed the NAACP Image Award winning, Emmy and DGA nominated film The Rosa Parks Story;Incognito, Funny Valentines, Love Song, and Subway Stories: Tales From The Underground. Her work as a film director includes museum and theme park exhibits and design for Disney’s Imagineering, Brothers of the Borderland for The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Museum, and Smuggling Daydreams into Reality for the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Her most recent museum installations include Standing at The Scratch Line, at the Philadelphia Museum of African American History, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Shine a Light, a large-scale video mapping projection for the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit.
Dash has been attached to direct the upcoming Lionsgate Entertainment bio pic on the scholar and activist Angela Davis. She has several documentary projects in the works, including Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, a feature length documentary in-progress about Vertamae Smart Grosvenor, a world-renowned author, performer, and chef from rural South Carolina who has led a remarkably unique and complex life.
She earned her MFA in Film & Television production at UCLA, received her BA in Film Production from CCNY, and she was a Producing and Writing Conservatory Fellow at AFI, the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies.
Julie Dash is currently the Distinguished Professor of Art & Visual Culture at Spelman College.
Photo by KK Ottesen
Through her activism and scholarship over many decades, ANGELA DAVIS has been deeply involved in movements for social justice around the world. Her work as an educator – both at the university level and in the larger public sphere – has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial, and gender justice.
Professor Davis’ teaching career has taken her to San Francisco State University, Mills College, and UC Berkeley. She also has taught at UCLA, Vassar, Syracuse University the Claremont Colleges, and Stanford University. Most recently she spent fifteen years at the University of California Santa Cruz where she is now Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness – an interdisciplinary Ph.D program – and of Feminist Studies.
Angela Davis is the author of ten books and has lectured throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America. In recent years a persistent theme of her work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of those communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. She draws upon her own experiences in the early seventies as a person who spent eighteen months in jail and on trial, after being placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List.” She also has conducted extensive research on numerous issues related to race, gender and imprisonment. Her recent books include Abolition Democracy and Are Prisons Obsolete? about the abolition of the prison industrial complex, a new edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and a collection of essays entitled The Meaning of Freedom. Her most recent book of essays is called Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement.
Angela Davis is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. Internationally, she is affiliated with Sisters Inside, an abolitionist organization based in Queensland, Australia that works in solidarity with women in prison.
Like many educators, Professor Davis is especially concerned with the general tendency to devote more resources and attention to the prison system than to educational institutions. Having helped to popularize the notion of a “prison industrial complex,” she now urges her audiences to think seriously about the future possibility of a world without prisons and to help forge a 21st century abolitionist movement.
Photo by Desta Chery
ZEINABU IRENE DAVIS is an independent filmmaker and Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego. She is comfortable working in narrative, experimental and documentary genres. Her work is passionately concerned with the depiction of women of African descent. A selection of her award-winning works include a short drama about a young enslaved girl, Mother of the River (1996); a love story set in Afro-Ohio, A Powerful Thang (1991); and the feature documentary, Spirits of Rebellion (2016).
Her dramatic feature film entitled Compensation (1999) features two inter-related love stories that offer a view of Black Deaf culture. The film was selected for the Dramatic Competition at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival and was the winner of the Gordon Parks Award for Directing from the Independent Feature Project in 1999. Compensation garnered a two-year broadcast run on the Sundance and BlackStarz! Cable Channels. Compensation was recently featured in the Black 90s Film Film Series at BAM in 2019.
Her most recent release, a feature documentary work, Spirits of Rebellion: Black Cinema from Los Angeles has won seven awards including the prestigious “African Oscar” for Best Diaspora Feature Documentary from the African Movie Academy Awards in Nigeria and the San Diego Film Awards for Best Feature Documentary.
Zeinabu irene Davis holds an undergraduate degree from Brown University, an MA in African Studies and an MFA from UCLA. Ms. Davis has received numerous grants and fellowships from such sources as the National Black Programming Consortium, Rockefeller Foundation, the American Film Institute and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her works are distributed by Women Make Movies, Third World Newsreel, and Cinema Guild.
Photo courtesy Barbara McCullough
New Orleans-born filmmaker BARBARA MCCULLOUGH’s recently completed documentary, Horace Tapscott: Musical Griot, looks into the life of the once blacklisted musical genius Horace Tapscott—a consummate musician, community activist, and mentor to generations of accomplished young jazz artists. McCullough, who spent most of her life in the Los Angeles area, notes experimental film and video as her first loves, always striving to “tap the spirit and richness of her community by exposing its magic, touching its textures, trampling old stereotypes, and revealing untold stories of African American life.”
Her film and video projects include: Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification, a quest for Black female identity through exploration of spiritual and cultural identity to dispel societal putrefaction; Shopping Bag Spirits and Freeway Fetishes:Reflection on Ritual Space (SBS), a look at why African American artists incorporate some form of ritual in their work; Fragments, a compilation and condensation of work included and not included in SBS; and World Saxophone Quartet, a short conversation with the World Saxophone Quartet whose members comment on their work and motivation.
Grants for her work include an Avant-Garde Masters Grant for experimental film from the National Film Preservation Film Foundation for restoration by the UCLA Film and Television Archives of her film Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification. Other grants were awarded by Brody Arts Fund, the Black Programming Consortium-Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Cultural Affairs of the City of Los Angeles, Western States Black Research Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work is screened nationally and internationally at galleries and museums. A 25-year veteran of the visual effects industry, McCullough was chair and professor of visual effects at Savannah College of Art and Design for six years before returning to the Los Angeles area. Currently she is researching new projects and writing about her family’s migration from Louisiana to California.
FEATURED FILM STILLS FOR OCTOBER 7
Still from Illusions (1982), by Julie Dash
Still from Illusions (1982), by Julie Dash
Still from Illusions (1982), by Julie Dash
Still from Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification (1979), by Barbara McCullough
Combahee Experimental celebrates the work of Black women filmmakers and their unique cinematic contributions to contemporary visual culture. Co-curated by award-winning multi-media artist Simone Leigh and Black feminist theorist of visual culture and contemporary art Tina Campt, the series extends a collaboration begun with the 2018 Loophole of Retreat conference convened at the Guggenheim Museum as a commitment to using public programming platforms to highlight the creative, artistic, and intellectual labor of Black women.
The series looks back while also looking forward to Black women experimental filmmaking from the late seventies to the present day. Its point of departure is a reexamination of the early work of two female members of the influential LA Rebellion movement and the unique cinematic intervention it initiated. It is an intervention that the UCLA Film and Television Archive characterizes as driven by the group’s commitment to a “utopian vision of a better society, their sensitivity to children and gender issues, their willingness to question any and all received wisdom, their identification with the liberation movements in the Third World, and their expression of Black pride and dignity.”
ABOUT THE SERIES CURATORS
Photo courtesy Tina Campt
TINA CAMPT is Owen F. Walker Professor of Humanities and Modern Culture and Media at Brown University and a Research Associate at the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre (VIAD) at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. Campt is a Black feminist theorist of visual culture and contemporary art. She is the author of three books: Other Germans: Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender and Memory in the Third Reich (2004), Image Matters: Archive, Photography and the African Diaspora in Europe (2012), and Listening to Images (2017). Her forthcoming book, A Black Gaze, will be published by MIT Press in 2021.
Photo by Paul Mpagi Sepuya
SIMONE LEIGH’s practice incorporates sculpture, video, and installation; all are informed by her ongoing exploration of Black female-identified subjectivity. Leigh works in a mode she describes as auto-ethnographic. Her objects often employ materials and forms traditionally associated with African art; her performance-influenced installations create spaces where historical precedent and self-determination comingle. Through her investigations of visual overlaps between cultures, time periods, and geographies, she confronts and examines ideas of the female body, race, beauty, and community. She is a recipient of the Foundation for Contemporary Art Grant (2018), Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize (2017), John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2016), and Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2016). Recent projects and exhibitions include: Simone Leigh (2020) at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; Whitney Biennial (2019) at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Trigger: Gender as a Tool and as a Weapon (2017) at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; Psychic Friends Network (2016) at Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, London; The Waiting Room (2016) at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; The Free People’s Medical Clinic (2014), a project commissioned by Creative Time; inHarlem, a public installation presented by The Studio Museum in Harlem at Marcus Garvey Park, New York; and a solo exhibition at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Leigh’s work was featured in Loophole of Retreat, a major exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, to commemorate her achievements as the winner of the Hugo Boss Prize 2018. Leigh is the first artist to be commissioned for the High Line Plinth, where she presents a new monumental sculpture that started in April 2019.