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Art Wed Apr 11 2012

The red, black and GREEN Movement

54a2cTheaster and Bamuthi 13.jpg

Photo: Bethanie Hines

It is not that Marc Bamuthi Joseph sees the world differently, but that he sees the world - and some of the world's problems and challenges - more clearly than others. Much of his past work and his current performance project investigates and dissect issues of the environment for the underserved and communities of color. The rise of the green movement - despite the movement's power and importance - has also created a limited, often one-sided interpretation of and reaction to environmental issues.

"It became clear," Bamuthi began, "that there was a homogeneous population with a certain kind of literacy and a certain kind of vocabulary that bordered on jargon in terms of environmental consciousness and environmental actions."

Bamuthi's latest project at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA), red, black and GREEN: a blues, a multimedia performance work combining text, dance, and visuals and in collaboration with Chicago-artist Theaster Gates, addresses the discrepancies of the goals and actions of the environmental and green movements with the various communities often ignored.


Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Photo: Bethanie Hines

The impetus for the performance stems from Bamuthi's LIFE is LIVING festivals which took place in Harlem, Chicago, Houston, and Oakland. A "traveling environmental caucus & concert," the festivals included graffiti battles, sports, construction projects, and youth poetry events. Each festival was unique and often catered to the concerns and the environment of the neighborhood and city in which they took place. In July of 2009, the festival made a stop in Chicago and included a performance by Saul Williams, eco-education with the Chicago Botanic Garden, and a skateboarding competition, among other events. Although each festival was different, Bamuthi noted that the underlying goals transcended geographical location.

"In doing the kind of intermediary step, the [LIFE is LIVING festival] was to create a kind of sized event where we could underscore environmental conversation using the performative vernacular of hip-hop culture," said Bamuthi.

Vernacular colors one's experiences. It can create communities and exclude others. Importantly, it can also break through the limitations of language. The language of the green movement - sustainability, environmentalism, the everyday - has been co-opted by corporations. And often, it has been sealed into a vacuum, a place in which one community's actions and thoughts are said to that same community, creating a cyclical dialogue that fails to address the day-to-day for other people, for all people. Environmentalism should not and can not be relegated to corporate initiatives or upper middle class communities. That largely defeats the purpose of trying to find solutions to better the world as a whole. And when this vacuum of dialogue occurs, it can also ignore or refute the very real practices of sustainability that are practiced by others outside of that one social or economic environment.

d14bcBamuthi and Theaster 5.jpg

Photo: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi

"The reality is, beyond the fact that environmentalism is as much a social issue as it is a scientific one, the reality is that everyone has to get it or it's unsuccessful," Bamuthi said. "The more fragmented, the more segregated the environmental movement is, the more likely it is that we're all going to suffer."

The LIFE is LIVING festivals as well as this latest performance at the MCA highlights this concern.

"Things that are conservation type things born out of necessity and economic hardship that are also examples of environmental behavior, they aren't labeled as such by the green community. That became the dual task," Bamuthi continued. "To highlight those things and to create a safe space for that to exist within the context of hip hop culture."

In red, black and GREEN: a blues (rbGb), Gates constructed four modular structures that fit together like a "shotgun house." When audiences arrive for the performances, instead of taking their seats, they will walk on stage. The performance will be divided into parts, including an interactive and immersive introduction, a performed documentary of the festivals, and an opportunity for audiences to engage in dialogue about the work.

d7ecfTheaster and Bamuthi 20.jpg

Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Photo: Bethanie Hines

The performance also reunites artists who collaborated with Bamuthi on the 2009 MCA performance the break/s: a mixtape for stage: choreographer Stacey Printz; director Michael John Garc├ęs; drummer and beatboxer Tommy Shepherd; documentary filmmaker Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi; and video designer David Szlasa. Additional performers include dancer and actor Traci Tolmaire as well as Gates.

Throughout the work, the performers highlight not just the ideas of environmentalism but also the ways in which we live our lives. The consciousness of the different communities and neighborhoods that serve as a catalyst for Bamuthi's work is not just relegated to ideas of solar energy or conservation. It is about life, about living, about the decisions and practices of the everyday.

"It is about putting life as the primary value rather than green as the primary value," said Bamuthi. "And that journey from green to life, from addressing issues of conservation to issues of mortality rates and morbidity or championing the cultural expressions that have changed us for generations, that journey is what is chronicled in the show."

red, black and GREEN: a blues runs April 12 - 14, at 7:30 pm, at the MCA
Stage, 220 East Chicago Avenue. Tiickets are $28 ($22 for MCA members are $10 for a limited number of students) and can be purchased from the MCA Box Office at (312)397-4010 or online.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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