Artists “Rise Up” At RevA.A.R.T.lution
Old-school R&B greeted guests at the doors to Musical Intervention. Strains of jazz and scat wafted through the room, mingling with conversation as attendees multiplied. A sort of half-musical, half-spoken hum rose to meet the audience’s ears, drawing them closer to the stage. A whole evening of performances awaited there, ready to begin.
In late April, over 50 gathered at Musical Intervention’s Temple Street headquarters for the second meeting of RevA.A.R.T.lution (Altruistic, Ancestral, Renderings Of Truth), a four-part exhibition series from The Lineage Group intended to convene majority-black audiences around Connecticut. The series was conceived and organized last year by Lineage Group members Ariel Herbert, Faith Lorde and Malcolm Welfare.
The series “is inspiring artists to branch out of their comfort zones and normal spaces of operation to push their creativity into new realms of existence,” Herbert said after the exhibition. “We are inspiring youths who are unsure about the relevance of their artistry, to pursue their artistic talents and view the arts as hard skills leading to viable careers.”
“RevAART is creating spaces for underprivileged artists who are not generally recognized and connecting them with community members who support them,” she added. “We present art forms that are not commonly observed by our community like classical dance, puppetry, and sculpting by artists of color! Lastly, we are evoking the renderings and expressions of our ancestors to spiritually uplift and educate our community!”
Unlike RevA.A.R.T.lution’s first event last December, during which Welfare heeded a call to “bring that booginess down a little bit,” the evening was geared towards unrecognized artists who have experienced homelessness. The event was partially sponsored by Mecha Noodle Bar, Subway, and Dunkin’ Donuts.
As visitors continued to stream in, the night began with a cover of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” from Kaina Mondesir, whose curly purple dreadlocks shone brightly under the stage lights. As she bounded onto the stage, she looked out wide-eyed at the audience, and began to make Day’s words her own.
Rise like the day
And I’ll do it a thousand time again
Listeners leaned in, some nodding mid-song as Mondesir’s lyrics coasted over the space. With each word, they seemed to bless the audience with the courage to overcome the challenges of everyday life. Joining her on stage, Jonatthon Tripletts came in with a rich piano accompaniment, Mondesir’s river of sound colliding with a flurry of notes to make the song come alive.
Around the two, visual art beckoned from every side of the room. From one wall, artist Rouze’s Village (pictured below) caught viewers by surprise, with the cast of Rugrats rendered as entirely Black African-Americans. Seemingly gargantuan against the wall, it rewrote skin color in one fell swoop, making a statement while also rendering it irrelevant. It was as if Rouse had pulled the curtain off the characters, flipping the animated script millions of Americans grew up with and asking them to take a second look.
Inside of the frame, characters’ hairstyles began to jump out one by one. In the place of Tommy Pickles’ squiggly, eight strands of brown hair, there are five fine cornrows, pulled back on his head as he gets into his latest mischief on the carpet below.
Angelica has also been reimagined, with single braids with beads at the ends in the style of pig tails. As she lifts a doll—notably, a Black Barbie, dressed in what looks a little like Kente cloth—away from the family dog, you can almost hear them click softly as they knock into each other. Around them, it’s a whole family reunion, adults sporting a mix of natural and relaxed hairstyles as they mix and mingle with each other.
Aboogie & Apes, a work in acrylic on canvas by the artist “Mablo Micasso,” similarly dealt with the issue of racial stereotyping. In the center, a young Black African-American in a white shirt looks out warily at the viewer, flanked by an ape on both sides. But these apes have been taken from their natural habitat: they are wearing red-and-orange and blue zip-up hoodies, and look straight out of the frame to where they can catch the onlooker’s eye. Look, the artist says to the viewer: this is what a passer-by sees when three young Black men walk down the street.
That’s just the surface. As a viewer reads the work from left to right, they may catch another red, white and blue reference—not the American flag so much as flashing, rotating police lights, and the reds and blues associated with gang violence. The characters transform into animals and gangsters, unable to shake the appearance even as they try. The longer you look at the three men, the more references they churn up: police brutality and the young Black boys and men who have been taken senselessly, crime within communities, and outside stereotypes that prove near impossible to shake.
But the painting, like the event, isn’t a statement of defeat. It’s a call to action: to embrace events like RevA.A.R.T.lution, to take pride in the beauty of history, to celebrate our blessed, gorgeous skin as birthright.