The Program in Visual Arts presents a day-long symposium centered on the work of William Greaves, a key figure in American filmmaking. This symposium shares Greaves’ work with a new generation and gives access to some of his films that have rarely been screened. The events, organized by artists Fia Backström and Martine Syms, include presentations by Malik Gaines and Alex Pittman; a panel discussion with contemporary artists and thinkers including Gaines, Pittman, Backström and Syms, moderated by Erin Christovale; a screening of Greaves’s newly restored 1972 film: Nationtime—Gary introduced by Louis Massiah; and an exhibition entitled “William Greaves — Sondra Perry — Martine Syms,” which includes works by Greaves and internationally renowned artists Martine Syms and Sondra Perry in the Hurley Gallery, open to the public February 21 – March 29 daily from 10 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

A publication will accompany the events with texts by Aria Dean, Devorah Heitner, and Jared Sexton, alongside a conversation with the organizers Backström and Syms. Download “William Greaves: Psychodrama, Interruption, and Circulation” booklet (PDF)


William Greaves is a key figure in American filmmaking. Despite his historical and contemporary significance, under-representation has meant that few of his films are restored and available. As artists, writers, and educators, we have both been deeply influenced in our own practices by Greaves’ progressive artistic strategies, particularly his use of psycho-drama to reveal the nature of hidden power structures, and his use of Brechtian tools for analysis of labor conditions around the making of the work. We are also interested in the way his unique observational eye and virtuosic editing tell a specific and rich story of black empowerment during the 60s and 70s.

With this symposium, we want to share this important work with a new generation and give access to films that have rarely been screened. For this occasion, 1972’s rarely-seen Nationtime—Gary has been newly restored. During this day, there will be a keynote address and a panel discussion with contemporary artists and thinkers to more deeply probe the universe of William Greaves. There will also be an exhibition with works by Greaves and the artists Martine Syms and Sondra Perry, both of whom are working in the vein of his legacy.

Fia Backström and Martine Syms, artists and symposium organizers


All symposium events are free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged. Please register online through Eventbrite.



1:00 – 3:00 PM — Opening Reception, Exhibition: “William Greaves — Sondra Perry — Martine Syms” | Hurley Gallery, Lewis Arts complex, 122 Alexander St. (Open daily 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Feb. 21-Mar. 29)

3:00 PM — Shuttle service to the location of the symposium

3:30 – 5:30 PM — Panel Discussion: Fia Backström, Malik Gaines, Alex Pittman and Martine Syms, moderated by Erin Christovale | James Stewart Film Theater, 185 Nassau St.

6:00 – 7:30 PMScreening of Nationtime—Gary (1972), duration 90 min.| James Stewart Film Theater, 185 Nassau St.


Presented by the Lewis Center for the Arts and cosponsored by Princeton University’s Department of African American Studies, Department of Art and Archaeology, Program in Media + Modernity, and the John Sacret Young ’69 Lecture Series Fund.



william greaves serious expression in black jacket

Filmmaker William Greaves. Photo courtesy William Greaves Productions

Until its recent discovery in a Pittsburgh warehouse (amidst thousands of films abandoned when the WRS laboratory went bankrupt), William Greaves’ original cut of Nationtime—Gary (1972) was assumed to have been lost. Found and restored by IndieCollect forty-seven years after the National Black Political Convention took place in Gary, Indiana, the original full-length film documenting the historic event can now be seen. Filmmaker Greaves (1926-2014), the producer/director of Nationtime, was approached by Amiri Baraka about the possibility of filming the convention. Baraka, along with Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr., and Mayor Richard M. Hatcher of Gary, Indiana, co-convened the convention. There was no money available in the budget but recognizing the significance of the event, Greaves took up the challenge, put together a three-camera crew, and spent three days covering the event, which he later edited.

The film is part of an important and extraordinarily diverse body of work that Greaves produced over the course of a 50-year career.  It includes Emmy-nominated breakthrough films such as Still a Brother, Inside the Negro Middle Class (1967),  as well as sponsored documentaries like In the Company of Men (1968) which used early innovative techniques such as psychodrama.  In the Company of Men is being shown in conjunction with the symposium at Princeton. Greaves’ pioneering work earned him numerous national and international film festival awards, including a 1968 Emmy as executive producer of Black Journal, the first Black-produced nationally broadcast TV series in America.

Unable to get into the industry that was closed to African Americans, Greaves left America in 1952 and spent almost a decade in Canada. He worked for many years on the staff of the National Film Board, where he eventually became chief editor of the internationally recognized award-winning Unit B and, in 1958, produced, directed and edited, Emergency Ward, one of the earliest cinema verite films ever made. But by 1963, the Civil Rights Movement was beginning to open doors to African Americans in the media. Greaves had always planned to return to the United States. The time had now come for him, as a filmmaker with years of training and experience, to play role in telling the story of the African American’s centuries-long struggle for freedom and equality. He returned to America in 1963 and set to work documenting the struggles that were taking place at a critical period in American history.  Out of this came the films The First World Festival of Negro Arts (1966), Still a Brother: Inside the Negro Middle Class (1968) and From These Roots (1973).  From These Roots, the first documentary about the Harlem Renaissance, is considered an African American Studies classic. He is best known for his early use of  cinema verite, psychodrama, and split screen techniques — all of which are exemplified by Symbiopsychotaxiplasm:Take One (1968), which is now listed in the Registry of American film at the Library of Congress.


fia backstrom

FIA BACKSTRÖM is an interdisciplinary artist, writer and educator who works on the construction of collective subjectivity through fields images and language use. In 2011 Backström represented Sweden in the Venice Biennale and was included in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, and Greater New York, PS1 in 2016. She was represented as the artist for Artist’s Institute season of fall 2015. Her work has been shown in numerous international institutional exhibitions including: MoMA (2010), White Columns (2008), and the Kitchen (2007), New York; Centre George Pompidou, Paris (2019); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2010, 2019); The Baltic, Newcastle (2009); Tranzit, Prague (2008); and the Serpentine Gallery, London (2007). Her writings have been published in magazines such as Artforum, Art on Paper and North Drive Press. Her books include COOP A-Script, Primary Information (2016) and Fia Backström, Sternberg press (2011). In 2018 she received the Bernard Heidsieck Literary Prize – Centre Pompidou. Backström holds a full-time position at Cooper Union and is co-chair of the photography department at Bard MFA. She is represented by Callicoon Fine Arts in New York.


christovale in brown dress with pineapple printERIN CHRISTOVALE is the Associate curator at the Hammer Museum and the co-founder of Black Radical Imagination.




dean with arms crossed stands under covered hallwayARIA DEAN (b. 1993) is an artist, writer and curator based in New York and Los Angeles. She is Assistant Curator of Net Art & Digital Culture at Rhizome. Dean’s writing has been featured in Texte zur Kunst, e-flux, Artforum, Art in America, Kaleidescope, Spike Magazine, and other publications. Recent solo and two-person exhibitions include (meta)models or how i got my groove back, Chapter NY; Aria Dean, Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo; lonesome crowded west, Chateau Shatto, Los Angeles; Gut Pinch, The Sunroom, Richmond; and White Ppl Think I’m Radical, Arcadia Missa, London. Dean has also participated in group exhibitions internationally at Tai Kwun, Hong Kong; The MAC, Belfast; ICAVCU, Richmond; Het Hem, Amsterdam; ICA Philadelphia; Higher Pictures, NY; Bodega, NY; Schinkel Pavilion, Berlin. She has lectured and presented work at various institutions such as Yale University; Swiss Institute, NY; Serpentine Galleries, London; Centre d’Art Contemporain Genéve; Cranbrook Art Museum; La Casa Encendida; Transmediale Festival; and Atlanta Contemporary.


gaines in white collared shirtMALIK GAINES writes, composes, and performs. His book Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left (2017) traces political ideas through performances of the 1960s and beyond. His next book project, which has been supported by a Warhol Foundation grant, explores contemporary artworks and performances that act at the limits of national sovereignty. His writing about art and performance has appeared in Art Journal, Women & Performance, Artforum and many others, and he has written essays for numerous exhibition catalogues and artist’s books, most recently for artists including Senga Nengudi, Pope.L, The Judson Dance Theater, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and Ed Bereal. He has performed and exhibited extensively with the group My Barbarian, which is currently planning a 20-year survey of their work to open fall 2020 at the Whitney Museum. He also makes performance work in other collaborations and solo. Gaines is associate professor of Performance Studies at NYU, Tisch School of the Arts.


heitner smiling, seated with hands claspedDEVORAH HEITNER holds a PhD in Media Studies from Northwestern University and has taught at DePaul University. Her book, Black Power TV, chronicles the emergence of Black public affairs television starting in 1968. Black Power TV examines two local shows, New York’s Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant and Boston’s Say Brother, and the national programs Soul! and Black Journal.



naeem old photo of man with serious expressionNAEEM MOHAIEMEN combines essays, films, and installations to research socialist utopia and incomplete decolonizations. He is author of Prisoners of Shothik Itihash (Kunsthalle Basel, 2014), co-editor with Lorenzo Fusi of System Error: War is a Force that Gives us Meaning (Sylvana, 2007) and co-editor with Eszter Szakacs of Solidarity Must be Defended (Tricontinental, forthcoming).



alex pittmanALEX PITTMAN is a term assistant professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College. His book-in-progress, Capital in the Flesh: Constrained Intimacies in Black Art after Deindustrialization, examines the politics of gender in the work of Black theatrical, performing, and visual artists who grapple with transformations of labor and social reproduction in the United States since 1968. His writing on race, sexuality, labor, and art can be found in Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts, Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, and Social Text’s Periscope. He is also a member of the Social Text editorial collective.



perry smiles by blue blackground hands on hipsSONDRA PERRY earned her MFA from Columbia University (2015) and a BFA from Alfred University (2012). In 2017, she was awarded the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize from the Seattle Art Museum, which culminated in the exhibition, Eclogue for[in]HABITABILITY. Perry’s solo exhibitions include Typhoon coming on, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, UK (2018); Chromatic Saturation, Disjecta, Portland, OR (2018); Sondra Perry: flesh out, Squeaky Wheel, Buffalo, NY (2017); and Resident Evil, The Kitchen, New York (2016). Selected group exhibitions include The Body Electric, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (2018); Family Pictures, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH (2018); Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today, Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Boston, MA (2018); We Just Fit, You and I, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge, MA (2017); Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn (2016); and Greater New York, MoMA PS1, Long Island City (2015). Spanning the last five years, Perry has screened her videos and presented talks at institutions including the Vera List Center at The New School, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and The Artists’s Institute, New York, among others.


book coverJARED SEXTON teaches African American Studies and Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author, most recently, of Black Masculinity; The Cinema of Policing and Black Men; and Black Feminism: Lucifer’s Nocturne.





stewart smiling in printed shirtJACQUELINE STEWART is Professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, and she directs the South Side Home Movie Project and the Cinema 53 screening and discussion series. Jacqueline is the host of Silent Sunday Nights on Turner Classic Movies and is the Director of Arts + Public Life at University of Chicago. Stewart is co-editing a book with film scholar and Professor Scott MacDonald about the work of William Greaves.



syms in light top black skirt with hand on hipMARTINE SYMS (b. 1988, Los Angeles) uses video and performance to examine representations of blackness. Her artwork has been exhibited and screened extensively, including presentations at the Museum of Modern Art, Hammer Museum, ICA London, New Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and The Studio Museum in Harlem, among other institutions. She has lectured at Yale University, SXSW, California Institute of the Arts, University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University, and MoMA PS1, among other venues. Syms’ recently presented exhibitions include BOON, Secession; Shame Space, ICA Virginia Commonwealth University; Grand Calme, SCHQ; Big Surprise, Bridget Donahue Gallery; Contemporary Projects: Martine Syms, Serralves Museum; Projects 106: Martine Syms, Museum of Modern Art; Fact and Trouble, ICA London. From 2007-2011 she was the co-director of the Chicago artist run project space Golden Age, and she currently runs Dominica Publishing, an imprint dedicated to exploring blackness in visual culture. She is the author of Implications and Distinctions: Format, Content and Context in Contemporary Race Film (2011).





Map + Directions

The symposium events take place in Princeton, New Jersey, in the Hurley Gallery at the Lewis Arts complex at 122 Alexander Street and also at the James Stewart Film Theater at 185 Nassau Street. See the schedule of events above for more information about which events take place at which locations.

Shuttle buses will be provided for transportation across campus between the Lewis Arts complex and the theater at 185 Nassau.


Alexander Street, between Lawrence Drive in Princeton and Canal Pointe Boulevard in West Windsor, will close for about six months beginning on Wednesday, November 6, 2019, for road construction.

Construction makes traveling to campus more time consuming. Traffic congestion from all routes to campus during peak times (weekdays, 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., and 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.) will be higher than normal. Drivers traveling to campus along Route 1 will see the greatest delays.

Visit for the most current information on detour routes, parking, and tips for planning your visit to campus.

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Presented By

  • Program in Media + Modernity
  • Department of African American Studies
  • Department of Art and Archaeology
  • Program in Visual Arts