Legacies: Music, Sculpture Or Orange Dust?
Black Friday concert
Owuor Arunga “The Sultan of Swag,” a world famous trumpet player, organized an astonishing Black Friday concert at the Langston Hughes Cultural Center. As he explained to us, almost all the now successful performers who shared their talents with us that night got their start as youth who first performed on the very stage where the concert took place. It was a moving evening, as we watched old friends greet each other, mentors give short presentations, and singers, rappers and musicians give extraordinary performances.
Owuor Arunga spoke of his own mentors in the Central District and at Garfield High School, and he, in turn, is mentoring many others. Some of the incredible performers with a wide range of ages, included singers Marissa Garret, Dadabass, Adra Boo, Otieno Terry, Black Stax (four musicians, with a political and avant-garde edge) , rapper Yirim Sec, and the distinguished Josephine Howell. Owuor believes that music can “heal the world.” Several of the musicians are part of the One Vibe Africa’s Music and Art Program, based in Kisumu, Kenya.
Each performance was punctuated by astonishing solo trumpet playing by Owuor along with his friends on trumpet, guitar, drums and keyboard. The importance of the Central District as an epicenter of Black culture in Seattle for decades disappears more rapidly every day as gentrification ravages the neighborhood. Wyking Garrett spoke of current efforts to save African American culture and businesses. One critical location is the block at 23rd and Union. The UmojaFest Peace Center is located on the Southeast corner at 24th and Spring Street. At the Black Dot Cultural Innovation Space on the other side of the block, participants are working on solutions to keep affordable rentals and businesses in the Central District.
Fountain of Triumph
In front of Black Dot on 23rd Ave., stands the 1995 Fountain of Triumph by famous sculptor James W. Washington, Jr., owned by the family that is selling the block. We must stay vigilant to make sure it survives any new development. Washington’s vision of it as a community gathering place with a message of struggle and determination, signified by the swimming salmon plunging toward the pool at the bottom, could not be more appropriate today.
Actually, the City of Seattle as part of the 23rd Avenue “improvement project” has already commissioned a sculpture by prominent Washington DC based African American sculptor Martha Jackson-Jarvis for the corner of 23rd and Union. Her work is described as follows: “The artwork will include historically relevant narratives of the neighborhood and stories of the people who have lived or created significant impact in the neighborhood, as well as address the changing and widening demographics of this area of the city.” I don’t see any conflict with having both public sculptures!
James W. Washington, Jr. came to the Central District in 1944 and lived in the same house until his death in 2000. That house today is a Foundation and Cultural Center thanks to his scrupulous planning. Hopefully, his example can be followed for preserving the cultural significance of the Central District. The Mayor has recently declared the “Historic Central Area Arts and Cultural District.” Hopefully this will connect to the local activists at Black Dot as well as to funding to make it happen.
The Survival of Culture
Troy Gua’s “Orange Dust” at the Bonfire Gallery, a new art and design space in the Panama Hotel, addresses the survival of culture from a different perspective. Bonfire director Bill Gaylord believes that “community engagement is the wellspring of civic vitality.” (By the way, the Panama Hotel itself is also up for sale)
Troy, a delightfully smart, but straightforward, person, explained to me that he believes the “idea of America is falling away.” This is even before the recent Islamophobia hysteria. He has always been fascinated with King Tut and Egypt (coincidentally resonating with the recent announcement that the tomb of Nefertiti may have been discovered).
But what will be discovered in an archeological dig in America, at some unspecified time in the future? Troy suggests some “fictional, metaphorical artifacts unearthed from America’s impending tomb.”
Take the pyramid: he made it with a Dorito and photographed it so that it looks monumental. “Orange Dust” means Dorito color and texture echoed in dozens of cast plaster orange pyramids ($40, a great Christmas present!), but the pyramid also refers to the US (take a look at your dollar bill).
Cleopatra with Marge Simpson’s hair in glossy gold, a plate of gold coated bullets, a giant knife and fork crossed in the position of the symbols held by ancient Egyptian kings, “emoji cartouches,” from the iPhone 6, “American pie” of gold plated bullets, sugar plastic caskets, Mt Rushmore heads as stoppers for canopics holding oil, blood, sugar, and bullets. You get the idea. Gua plays games and actually makes us laugh, even as he gets his more serious point across: what survives into the future reflects our values, and in the case of the US right now, they are pretty disturbing.
Martha Rosler, renowned social critic artist, and a personal hero of mine, received $100,000 from the New Foundation in Seattle! Rosler’s “Housing Is a Human Right” could not be a better fit for Seattle right now, and it will have various permutations all over the city for the next year. Already on view at the Seattle Art Museum is “Martha Rosler: Below the Surface” two series: House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967-72) and House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series (2004-2008). The titles speak for themselves!
by Susan Noyes Platt, www.artandpoliticsnow.com