Words: Shakti Langlois-Ortega
Cover art: Malik Nashad Sharpe

“Here and now, and without censorship, even without asking for permission, Black Art Empowerment will exist.”

It was with these worlds that Rhodnie Désir opened the very first edition of Black.Art.Empowerment at MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels), on April 8. Désir, the guest curator, stood in front of an attentive audience as she introduced the event’s multi-faceted program. Its two components, a performance segment and an interactive conference segment, are spread out over the next three weeks.

Empowering Performances

The performance segment includes a series of five interdisciplinary productions by various international artists from Paris, London, New York, and Philadelphia.

Each production, independent from one another, explores different aspects of the black experience through, at times, eccentric combinations that include dance, poetry, music, and projections.

“I’m bringing a perspective, a fervour and a rigour about my practice that is working on blackness explicitly. I’m not trying to make any kind of concessions, I’m trying to make the work for the purpose of humanizing blackness,” said Marikiscrycrycry (Malik Nashad Sharpe), whose production, $elfie$, will be presented on April 17 and 18.

Marikiscrycrycry toured the UK with his production $elfie$. Photo by Shakti Langlois-Ortega.

“I have a contemporary training, I went to the dance conservatoire, but I’m trying to undo the Eurocentrism of the education that I received. I’m trying to go into the dances that I learned being from immigrant communities and being from ‘the hood’,” said the New York native who now lives in London, England.

“I think the work is quite challenging. We bring the audience on a journey, really,” Marikiscrycrycry added.
“The performances really echo what we are thinking. They aren’t performances just to be performances. They aren’t just to entertain, in fact, there’s no entertainment in this event,” Désir explained.

Socio-artistic Labs

In parallel to the performances, interactive conferences, or socio-artistic labs, will be taking place throughout the event.

During the first one, which was held on opening night, local leaders Will Prosper, Engone Endong, Sarah Hinse “Kayiri”, along with two young representatives of Maison D’Haiti Girls’ Projects, exchanged thoughts with the audience about what it means to be black in today’s climate and the connotations behind black art-making.

“It’s interesting that works that are working on blackness are being used as a source to empower a conversation between politics and art-making and performance,” Marikiscrycrycry said.

Rhodnie Désir is a choreographer and the curator of the conference section of Black.Art.Empowerment. Photo by Kevin Calixte.

Désir, who also moderates the conferences, says that Black.Art.Empowerment was built upon the current momentum to bring awareness and efforts to communities of the African diaspora.

“I think I’m just one more person who is adding a little seed into all of these future actions.”

Her goal, she said, is simply to inspire.

“Be a sponge. Take whatever you need, but build something with it. It’s more about inspiring yourself from that movement and seeing what can grow from it.”

Black.Art.Empowerment runs through April 27, 2019. MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels) 3680, rue Jeanne-Mance, suite 103, Montréal.