On September 20th Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn opened at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights. Creative Time, one of New York City’s premiere arts based non profits along with the Weeksville Heritage Center launched the event.The art exhibition will run until October 12th and features four community based commissioned works by artists Xenobia Bailey, Simone Leigh, Otabnga and Associates and Bradford Young
Each artist worked with a local organization to create the works featured in the show. This not only adds to the importance of the community in which this exhibition is taking place, but also gives another layer of complexity to the neighborhood’s local history. The Weeksville Heritage Center is a historical significant place because it is one of the few remaining sites of Pre-Civil War African American communities. The present day Weeksville Heritage Center boasts a museum, 19,000 square foot education and arts center, cafe and library. All four artists are drawing directly from the community and the history of this specific site to inform the pieces they created.
Artist Xenobia Bailey’s piece entitled Century 21: Bed-Stuy Rhaposdy in Design: A Reconstruction Urban Remix in the Aesthetic of Funk aims to “design and produce up-cycled furniture created in the African-American aesthetic of Funk.” In collaboration with the Boys & Girls High School, one of the oldest public high schools in Brooklyn, Bailey worked with students for three months to create pieces of furniture. Over the the course of the exhibition the pieces will furnish one of the rooms in Weeksville Heritage Center’s historic Hunterfly Road homes.
Image courtesy of Creative Time. Artist Xenobia Bailey, Century 21: Bed-Stuy Rhaposdy in Design: A Reconstruction Urban Remix in the Aesthetic of Fun
Cinematographer Bradford Young created the three channel video installation Bayum Cutler which is on display at the Former Site of Bethel Tabernacle AME Church and PS 83. Young’s piece will “feature velvet monuments set against the backdrop of Weeksville’s historic Bethel Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in a tribute to the pioneering Black women, men, and children who embarked on countless journeys in search of refuge.” Young’s piece is both reacting to the history and landmarks around the neighborhood while also helping to re-contextualize it.
Artists collective Otabenga Jones and Associates worked with the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium to create a temporary outdoor radio station that will broadcast from a modified 1959 Cadallic Coupe de Ville. The broadcasts “will pay tribute to former Bed-Stuy cultural center “the East,” founded in 1969 as a hub for creating cultural awareness around the Black Nationalism and pan-Africanist movements.” They will be broadcasting live at the intersection of Fulton Ave and Malcolm X Boulevard on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12-6 PM until October 12th from OJBK FM.
Sculptor and video artist Simone Leigh takes a slightly different approach with her piece Free People’s Medical Clinic. Leigh who explores issues of African American identity, feminism and ethnography in her work has teamed up with Stuyvesant Mansion to create this work for the Black Radical show. Drawing it’s title from an initiative started by the Black Panthers Party in the 1960s-80s, Leigh’s piece investigates the larger sociocultural history of women’s experiences by considering “public health, racial consciousness and women’ work.” Leigh’s installation “converts the late Dr. English’s home at 375 Stuyvesant Avenue into a temporary space that explores the beauty, dignity and power of Black nurses and doctors… it will also offer a limited array of homeopathic and allopathic services ranging from yoga instruction to community acupuncture, all offered by Brooklyn-based practitioners.”
It is each of these artists ingenious approaches to combining the specific history of the sites they are incorporating into their work which is helping to spur a larger dialogue surrounding gentrification, race, gender and class. The history of the Weeksville Heritage Center is both grounding this larger conversion while also helping to keep the Crown Height’s community aware of it’s past and where it is headed.
Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn will run until October 12th. Please check the Creative Time website for specific times and locations of the various events associated with this exhibition.