Facing the Band: Elissa Blount Moorhead and the (Ana)Architectures of Community Ties
About Elissa Blount Moorhead
Elissa Blount Moorhead is an award winning artist, curator, writer, and producer “exploring the poetics of quotidian Black life to emphasize gestural dialectics of quiet domesticity and community building.” (“About: Elissa Blount Moorhead”)
Blount Moorhead is a partner at TNEG film studio founded by artists Arthur Jafa and Malik Sayeed), and has been creating, curating, and organizing with artists and events for over 28 years. In that time, she has co-produced and curated over 40 exhibitions and multimedia projects. With TNEG, whose mission is to create a cinema “capable of matching the same power, beauty and alienation of black music” and as central to the cultural, social, and economical life of the 21st century as black music was to the 20th, she has worked on APEX redacted, presented at FLUX NIGHT 2015: DREAM in Atlanta (2015), and was one of the key creative forces behind the video for Jay-Z’s title song 4:44, among many other works.
Before relocating from Brooklyn to Baltimore, where she currently lives, Blount Moorhead co-curated Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn (2014), a collaboration between Creative Time and the Weeksville Heritage Center, one of 19th century America’s first free black communities, featuring works by Xenobia Bailey, Simone Leigh, Otabenga Jones & Associates, and Bradford Young. In 2016 she co-curated Art in Odd Places: Race, an exploration of the “Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?” of race which took place along 14th St in Manhattan from Avenue C to the Hudson River. In 2017 she was one of one hundred female artists who formed a collective spearheaded by Simone Leigh to respond to, “the continued inhumane institutionalized violence against black lives” (“Closing Celebration for We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women,” Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter).
Blount Moorhead is currently producing a documentary film on Gil Scott Heron and an installation called As of A Now, an x-ray film projection showing now vacant row houses in Baltimore full of the audiovisual stories of their former Black denizens, using oral histories and augmented reality (As of a Now, Creative Capital).
Blount Moorhead contributed chapters in collections and catalogs, including her “Eight-Point Plan of Euphorically Utopic World-Making” in the anthology How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance, where she builds on the counterculture her parents created, insists on her centering on Blackness, in all its euphoric possibilities, emphasizing world-making as a key element in not only shaping the understanding of current existence but also in decentralizing the White Gaze. For The Radical Museum: Democracy, Dialog, & Debate, she articulates Weeksville Heritage Center’s history of self-determination in a chapter titled “Taken, not Granted,” which resists the white supremacist idea that freedom, land, rights, refuge, and self should be the outcome of white benevolence rather than black self-determination. She is also the author of P is for Pussy, an illustrated “children’s” book with illustrator Meltem Sahin.
Moorhead is the recipient of several awards, including the USA Artist Fellowship, Saul Zaentz Innovation Fellowship, Ford Foundation, Rockwood JustFilms Fellowship, Ruby Award, and the 2019 Creative Capital Award for As of a Now.
More recently Blount Moorhead completed Back and Song, a four-channel film installation, co-created with award-winning cinematographer and visual artist Bradford Young, which considers medical discrimination and healing in the Black community. Playing in 20-minute loops, the installation’s four screens incorporate contemporary and archival footage of dancing, childbirth, medicine men, prisoners, and testimonials about meditation. The installation, organized by the Philadelphia Contemporary and Thomas Jefferson University, recently concluded an October residency at the chapel of Girard College in Philadelphia.
While she is involved in projects ranging from public events, gallery exhibits, screenings, and educational programs, Blount Moorhead centers community and activism as the “gestural dialectics of quiet domesticity and community building” across all her works. In channeling her focus towards the projects and people involved, Blount Moorhead fashions her stance and groundedness after the position Miles Davis assumed when, playing with his back to the audience, he “faced his band,” instead. In her chapter “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” for How we Fight White Supremacy, she interprets Miles’s stance as “Don’t look over your shoulder. Let the world come find you—you don’t have to go to it. When they do find you, be totally into and enjoying your own bag.” She writes, “I’ve had a few bags throughout my life—career, crews, cities—but the bag for which I have always had an unwavering love is Blackness. I never tire of pondering who we are and what we do.” That is, rather than focusing on audience expectations or demands, she turns her attention towards the people and processes of creation that are central to her community, the lineages that have produced her, as well as lineages “to come.” Conceptually “facing the band” allows Blount Moorhead to emphasize process over product, personal relations over commercial outcomes, and select people and ideas based on what needs attention in each moment. As she has stated, “we… don’t want to be producers of masterpieces, but producers of conversation pieces.” (Creative Time Summit, “A Case for Nonsense, 2016) In extrapolating “facing the band” from its more literal context, then, Blount Moorhead explores forms of “curation” that transcend their traditional sense and refer instead to a more careful gathering of people, communities, and ideas, around the making of art.
For this reason, the liquid blackness research project on Elissa Blount Moorhead’s work and philosophy of artistic practice will be called, Facing the Band: Elissa Blount Moorhead and the (Ana)Architectures of Community Ties.
Some of the theoretical frameworks it will explore:
• Curation as CAREful Gathering and Community-Building
• Black Radical Feminist Aesthetics
• Raced and Gendered Notion of Care
• Art as Process/Author as Ensemble
• Black Spaces and Histories: Geographies, Architectures, Communities
• Black Ancestry and Futurity: Past Lineages and Lineages “to come”
Art in Odd Places: Race, co-curator (2016)
Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn, co-curator (2014)
Random Occurrences (2005)
Cat Calls (2001)
Casting Director / Creative Team Assemblage
As Told to G/D Thyself (2019)
As of A Now, in production (2019-present)
4:44, co-director (2017)
Paul Coats (2017)
Black Women for BLM (2016)
TNEG: APEX REDACTED, Flux Night in Atlanta (2015)
Someday We’ll All be Free, in How We Fight White Supremacy, contributor (2019)
P is for Pussy, author (2015)
Freedom is Taken, Not Granted: Radial Democratic Concepts of Freedom in Museums, The Radical Museum:Democracy, Dialog, & Debate, contributor (2011)
Paul Coats (2017)
Station North Arts & Entertainment District, executive director and chief creative officer (2016)
TNEG, partner (2013)
Red Clay Arts, co-founder and executive director
RushKids, director (2001-2003)
Cultural Pluralism Course, creator and instructor (1999-ongoing)
“Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn.” Weeksville Heritage Center. 2014. https://www.weeksvillesociety.org/funk-god-jazz-and-medicine-black-radical-brooklyn
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Blount-Moorhead, Elissa. “Curators’ Note: Where.” AIOP: Race. 2016 http://race.artinoddplaces.org/curators-note/
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Blount-Moorhead, Elissa. “As of a Now.” Creative Capital. 2019. https://creative-capital.org/projects/as-of-a-now/
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“Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn”. Creative Time Reports. 2014. http://creativetime.org/projects/black-radical-brooklyn/
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Solis, Marie. “Sex-Positive Alphabet Book ‘P Is for Pussy’ Is for Everyone.” Mic. Jan. 6, 2016. https://www.mic.com/articles/131884/sex-positive-alphabet-book-p-is-for-pussy-is-for-everyone
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Curation as CAREful Gathering and Community-Building
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Holland, Sharon Patricia. The Erotic Life of Racism. Duke University Press, 2012.
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Some frequent collaborators:
- Xenobia Bailey (in Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine)
- Gaskins, Nettrice R. “The African Cosmogram Matrix in Contemporary Art and Culture.” black theology 14, no. 1 (2016): 28-42.
- Scott, Jennifer. “Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-first Century at a Post-Emancipation Site.” The Public Historian 37, no. 2 (2015): 73-88.
- Simone Leigh (in Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine + Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter)
- Leigh, Simone; Chitra Ganesh, and Uri McMillan, “Alternative Structures: Aesthetics, Imagination, and Radical Reciprocity: An Interview with GIRL.” ASAP Journal 2, no. 2 (May 2017): 241-252.
- Davis, Samara. “Room for Care: Simone Leigh’s Free People’s Medical Clinic.” TDR/The Drama Review 59, no. 4 (2015): 169-176.
- Rashida Bumbray (in Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine… also collaborated with Bradford Young in Black America Again). Independent curator and choreographer of Run Mary Run, part of Jason Moran and Alicia Hall Moran’s BLEED at the 2012 Whitney Biennial. https://vimeo.com/61112888
- Seibert, Brian. ‘Run Mary Run’. Features Rashida Bumbray at SummerStage. New York Times, July 20, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/arts/dance/review-run-mary-run-features-rashida-bumbray-at-summerstage.html
- Ratliff, Ben. Art, Ancestry, Africa: Letting it All Bleed. New York Times, May 14, 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/15/arts/music/alicia-hall-moran-and-jason-moran-in-bleed-at-whitney.html
Raced and Gendered Notion of Care
Hartman, Saidiya. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval. W.W. Norton & Company, 2019.
Pena, Mary. “Black Public Art: On the Socially Engaged Work of Black Women Artist-Activists.” Open Cultural Studies 3.1 (2019): 604-614.
Owens, Deirdre Cooper. Medical bondage: race, gender, and the origins of American gynecology. University of Georgia Press, 2017.
Bradley, Rizvana. “Vestiges of Motherhood: The Maternal Function in Recent Black Cinema,” Film Quarterly 71(2) (2017): 46-52.
Warren, Calvin. “Black Care.” liquid blackness 3, no. 6 (2016): 34-37. http://liquidblackness.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/LB6-WARREN.pdf
Threadcraft, Shatema Intimate Justice: The Black Female Body and the Body Politic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
McKittrick, Katherine, ed., Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.
Brown, Kimberly Juanita. The Repeating Body: Slavery’s Visual Resonance in the Contemporary. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.
Nash, Jennifer C. “Practicing Love: Black Feminism, Love-Politics, and Post-Intersectionality.” Meridians 11.2 (2011): 1-24.
Ahmed, Sara. The Promise of Happiness. Duke University Press, 2010.
Crawford, Margo Natalie. “Must Revolution Be a Family Affair: Revisiting the Black Woman.” Dayo, F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard. Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle. New York University Press, 2009. 185-204.
Johnson, E. Patrick, “’Quare’ Studies, or (Almost) Everything I Know About Queer Studies I Learned from My Grandmother.” Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology. Duke University Press, 2005.
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Art as Process/Author as Ensemble
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Gunn, Jenny. “Intergenerational Pedagogy in Jenn Nkiru’s REBIRTH IS NECESSARY,” In Focus, “Modes of Black Liquidity: Music Video as Black Art,” Journal of Cinema and Media Studies 59, no. 2 (Winter 2020).
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Moten, Fred. In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
Black Spaces and Histories: Geographies, Architectures, Communities
Summers, Brandi Thompson. Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-chocolate City. University of North Carolina Press Books, 2019.
Allen, Douglas, Mary Lawhon, and Joseph Pierce. “Placing race: On the resonance of place with black geographies.” Progress in human geography 43.6 (2019): 1001-1019.
Bledsoe, Adam, and Willie Jamaal Wright. “The Pluralities of Black Geographies.” Antipode 51.2 (2019): 419-437.
Brown, Adrienne. The Black Skyscraper: Architecture and the Perception of Race. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.
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Nyong’o, Tavia. Afro-Fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life. New York University Press, 2019.
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Black Ancestry and Futurity: Past Lineages and Lineages “to come”
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Keeling, Kara. Queer Times, Black Futures. New York: New York University Press, 2019.
Yusoff, Kathryn. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018.
Carrington, André. “Mike Brown’s Body: New Materialism and Black Form.” ASAP/Journal 2, no. 2 (2017): 276-283.
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Page compiled with contributions from Corey Couch, Daren Fowler, and Alessandra Raengo.