Performance created by Meshell Ndegeocello
Directed by Charlotte Brathwaite
In the context of Meshell Ndegeocello’s Can I Get a Witness, James Baldwin’s work is ecclesiastic. Over the course of several years, multiple versions of this piece have been presented in various places, and I’ve drawn and painted portraits for each one. It became a series of work that started from a serendipitous sketch on copy paper, which led me down a path of getting to know Baldwin. Each time, the collaborators are different, and the focus of the piece is different. The people very much inform the process.
I did not learn about Baldwin’s work in my public school education in central Florida. I stumbled upon his work in college, when I saw his books on a shelf that belonged to one of my professors. Now, having studied his face with my eyes, recreating its outline and structure many times, reading his essays and books repeatedly throughout the process, I feel closer to him and to the experiences he describes in writing. Repetition is arduous but informative work. This repetition, to me, is about seeing experiences that are different than my own. It is about activating our shared humanity, finding strength in the memory of evocative images, and drawing connections between the work of the hand and the work of the mind.
Painting created for a performances of Can I Get a Witness? - a collaboratively devised performances based on James Baldwin's No More Water, The Fire Next Time. Set Design by Abigail DeVille and Lighting by Kent Barrett.