For Jacqueline Ware, seeing the installation of white hoods made her think of a poem about the KKK. For Barbi Leifert, the fact that only one artist made reference to dance or music inspired her to bring her own.
“30 Americans,” the national touring show of all-African-American contemporary art, has awed, inspired and educated hundreds of visitors — including local artists — since it opened at the Tacoma Art Museum in September. Now, some of those local artists are expanding the show’s last day into a multimedia experience at a free community festival Sunday. Black or white, they’re responding to the politics, the beauty and the energy of the show in their own way and encouraging the rest of us, too.
Jacqueline Ware, poet
In Jacqueline Ware’s poem, “Driven to Distraction,” two little girls have an argument after one starts singing the “Eeny meeny miny moe” song with no idea of its racist overtones. The spoken word Seattle artist and Tacoma native acts both sides of the poetic dialogue, encapsulating both the ignorance and the hurt. But Sunday, she’ll perform it in front of Gary Simmons’ installation “Duck Duck Noose,” a circle of white hoods on school chairs surrounding a hangman’s noose. In that setting, the poem will take on a whole new layer of meaning.
Ware, along with poet Georgia McDade, will be performing “tag team poetry” at the festival 11:30 a.m.-noon, taking turns to read poems in front of different artworks in “30 Americans” in a visually dramatic showcase that literally moves the audience.
“It’s not a poetry slam where you’re in each other’s faces,” says Ware, who like McDade is a member of the Seattle African-American Writers’ Alliance. “But it’s quick, rapid-fire, it holds your attention.”
As for Ware — and other artists in the festival — there were certain works in the 45-piece show that really spoke to her.
“When I saw ‘Duck Duck Noose’ I already had that (poem), so I was able to connect it with the white hoods right away,” says Ware, who performed the poem last year at Tacoma’s B2 Gallery.
She was also inspired by Kehinde Wiley’s “Sleep,” an enormous, meticulous painting of a reclining, mostly nude black man that turns the tables on traditional 18th-century art.
“He does not look comfortable,” says Ware, who’ll perform her poem “Now I Lay” in front of the Wiley piece. “For many of us, we have stressful moments when we sleep, and our dreams reflect what’s disturbing us.”
30 Americans” demonstrates that Tacoma has a vested interest in including all forms of art and ethnicity.
Jacqueline Ware, poet
But Ware’s reactions go broader than individual artworks and issues to the overall significance of the museum bringing the show to Tacoma.
“It’s huge,” Ware says. “I was immediately impressed by the fact that the artists wanted to be considered as Americans first and foremost. And I appreciated that Tacoma has evolved in such a way that they felt that bringing this to the city would be not only inspiring, but eye-opening. … It demonstrates that Tacoma has a vested interest in including all forms of art and ethnicity.”
Barbi Leifert, dancer and artist
Like some of the other artists in Sunday’s lineup, Barbi Leifert is white. But as a former professional dancer, the Seattle painter wanted to contribute to the show as an acknowledgment of the big influence African Americans have had on dance.
“As an artist, I’ve always been affected by African-American culture,” says Leifert. “But there was only one work in the show that referenced music or dance, and it’s a really important part of that culture.”
As an artist I’ve always been affected by African-American culture.
Barbi Leifert, dancer and painter
Leifert’s part in the festival is twofold. She’ll be bringing her mural “Joyful Dream” — a 108-inch by 58-inch painting inspired by the Alvin Ailey Company — to a hands-on art workshop (2-3 p.m.) where visitors can take stencils created by Leifert based on the murals’ dance figures and make their own paintings.
And she’ll be taking part in an interactive dance (3-3:30 p.m.) led by her friend and Seattle dance teacher Chris Daigre.
“Alvin Ailey was a fantastic place to learn,” says Leifert, who took classes at the famous New York dance company in her 20s, as well as worked as a dancer and arts journalist. “There was such high energy. I wanted to create a mural that showed the energy, joy and vitality of those dancers.”
Leifert actually created that mural last year for a solo show in New York. On a gray background, numerous muscular figures leap, arch and extend joyful arms and legs, each rendered in a bright palette of Caribbean-inspired blues, golds and reds. Painted by a dancer, they’re incredibly accurate: muscles pull taut, heads tilt and fingers extend exactly as real dancers do. Leifert modeled them on real company members doing movements they were famous for.
“I’ve been a dancer all my life, so I know where the weight is, how the body’s supposed to look,” says Leifert, who works in Tacoma but lives in Seattle, taking dance class at Spectrum and with Chris Daigre.
Like Ware, Leifert was thrilled to see “30 Americans” at the museum.
“With the new African American museum in Washington, D.C. and all the rhetoric in the political arena, it’s really important,” she says. “There’s a large multicultural population in Tacoma and everybody needs to be represented in a way that honors them.”
30 Americans community festival
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
Schedule: Kehinde Wiley-inspired portraits with Jasmine Brown, collaborative mural with Shurvon Haynes (all day), tag-team poetry by Jacqueline Ware and Georgia McDade (11:30 a.m.-noon), Stephen Griggs jazz ensemble (1-2 p.m.), dance-inspired artmaking with Barbi Leifert (2-3 p.m.), interactive dance with Chris Daigre (3-3:30 p.m.).
Where: Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.
Information: 253-272-4258, tacomaartmuseum.org.