Loughborough PhD Social & Support Network

#BLOG – Activism through art… (Part 2)

… Loughborough’s IAS features film-maker, Chris Ivey!

By Agostinho Pinnock

Below is the continuation and final part of our feature on Chris Ivey’s recent showing of his film ‘We are Here: Finding Beauty in the Raw’. The Pittsburgh artist and film-maker, was a recent guest of Loughborough’s Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS).

Ivey is an eternal prisoner of hope. While acknowledging not everyone immediately hears his ‘call-to-action’, he is insistent that his films have the power to provoke audiences into needed conversations. For him, this is an important start. As to where it leads exactly however…well, that is another matter altogether.

According to the North Carolina native, it is the responsibility of those who consume his art to challenge themselves into action. Ivey believes this dialogue is crucial to shrinking distance, whether real or imagined, between different groups of people. The young…ish film-maker is seeking to facilitate real encounters in an otherwise globalised and seemingly unconcerned world. It is part of his mission to empower marginalised communities and insist on the need to include.

But what of the idea of a spirituality linked to pre-colonial African worship at the start? Is that any less a concern vis-à-vis police brutality, state violence and the disappearance of the hundreds of Black women in America today? ‘Disappearance’ here is code for unsolved kidnappings and murder, all central themes in “We Are Here: Finding Beauty in the Raw”.

The answer is quite easily, though unsurprisingly, no. Spirituality, or more importantly the lack of it, is at the heart of the violence which Ivey grapples with in the film. Shown on four walls simultaneously, disembodied voice-overs eerily spill out of ‘nowhere’, preceding often, arresting visuals. They are intercut by panoptic nature views and recorded interviews of Ivey’s own discussions with some of the protesters (at Charlottesville and Pittsburgh), as well as bystander cell-phone recordings of the police shooting of unarmed teenager, Antwon Rose II. There is no want of challenging subject matter.

Even Daija McCall, one of the women who is eventually listed dead by the police (in the film), is included. She narrates a disturbing segment on missing and murdered Black women, her powerful singing hauntingly anchoring the visuals. Their cases still unsolved, the pain of their disappearance is still fresh in Ivey’s storytelling.

Daija however is not speaking from any mythical ‘beyond’. That is not Ivey’s intent, nor is it his focus. Rather, he affords Daijia presence in the ‘right now’, his lens telegraphing the tragedy of McCall’s young life. It is an ode to her and the many others who also have fallen victim to violence in “We Are Here”. McCall’s screams for justice from the grave. They are both forceful and poignant; her lustrous singing voice embodying the deferred dreams of a musical stardom never to be realised.

Justice delayed is, in effect, justice denied; a point Ivey brilliantly emphasises in his counterpointing of the connections between Nazism in Charlottesville and the uneven treatment of different racialised peoples in present-day America. He forces a needed conversation about: what exactly is justice? Who ensures it? And why are some left out even as we mourn others?

It is this uneasy ‘why’ which loops throughout “We Are Here”, the selective outrage over who can be mourned. The tragedy of which is made all the more apparent at the end. Antwon Rose’s shooting deliberately undercuts Ivey’s earlier humanisation of the late seventeen-year-old. The violence of his death, at the hands of the state (which repeatedly shoots him with the policeman’s gun), requires urgent and immediate redress.

Ivey purposely contrasts Rose’s fresh-faced innocence with the supposedly threatening nature of his Blackness, a traumatic echo of other similar shootings, with no likely recourse for justice. Rose, we are told throughout, was “confused and afraid!”. It explains why he ran. But not why the police shot him. The Pittsburgh teenager stands in for countless others, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, similarly gunned down in cold blood. It is part of the psychosis of violence which is repetitively echoed in the brutality of the policeman’s bullets.

(Suddenly Heather Heyer’s murder at Charlottesville takes on new meaning. Her death is rooted in a longer narrative of pain, collective exclusion and hate). Rose may have been murdered but he lives on in the celluloid technology of communal memory. It is undoubtedly Ivey’s homage to the American tragedies of black masculinity.

Heather Heyer 2017

However, this is not the sum of his focus. “We Are Here” is littered with the laughter of young children at play, their smiling faces a potent reminder of the adult sorrows of mourning also evident throughout. Spirit and nature are everywhere. Inescapable in their regularity, they demand attention. Which brings us back to the question of whether art can in fact trigger meaningful change: what might that look like?

For the artist the answer is simple. Or perhaps not so simple. Says Ivey: “…my work has always about connecting people, connecting human spirits as much as possible. It is about reminding people that even though we may not be directly affected by disaster, chaos, pain or unwellness of spirit, there are those who are […] I remind people of the ones going through life-changing events and still fighting through, finding a way to be whole again after traumatic events, whether community displacement, natural disaster or death…” He has heeded Morrison’s earlier challenge, studiously executing the late Nobel Laureate’s charge to powerfully use his ‘voice’ for change.

Toni Morrison

…The IAS is located at the heart of the campus, at International House (after Students’ Accommodations, on the way to Pilkington). Facilitating conversations between scholars, academics and thinkers across a range of disciplines, it offers several programmes which are open to academics and researchers alike. Director, Professor Marsha Meskimmon sees the future of the IAS, in particular, for the new academic year (2019-20) as strengthening the connections between emergence of different research interests in the areas of sound and water. For more about its Open Programme and visiting fellows, see link here: https://www.lboro.ac.uk/research/ias/themes/

The End.

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