Performers really write with their bodies. If you give them a piece of writing, it becomes a completely different thing once it’s spoken and acted by a performer. The strange alchemy that they’re able to do has everything to do with energy and the force of their imagination…
What I love about actors, really, is that they only have their history and their observation of the world to call on. It’s actually sort of like learning how to play poker really well: you have to make that decision so quickly… They’re in touch with the cosmic reality of life and also the memory of life. In the way that writers excavate, actors embody. — HiltonAls, PARIS LA 16
LAXART and the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens present LIVES OF THE PERFORMERS, a work-in-progress by Hilton Als.
The piece is directed by Peter Born and will be performed by Helga Davis and Victoire Charles—the Los Angeles stand-in for Okwui Okpokwasili, who was in a previous iteration.
A THOUSAND CROSSINGS—a major survey of the work of Sally Mann, organized by the NationalGallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachussetts—will be at Jeu de Paume for three more weeks.
The exhibition catalog is edited by the show’s curators—Sarah Greenough and Sarah Kennel—and includes essays by Hilton Als, Malcolm Daniel, Drew Gilpin Faust, Greenough, and Kennel.
“I didn’t want to speak for black people. I wanted to speak to, and among…”
And it is shocking, in Greenfield-Sanders documentary, to come across such benighted critical voices as, say, Sara Blackburn’s in 1973, in America’s supposedly liberal newspaper of record:
“Toni Morrison is far too talented to remain only a marvelous recorder of the black side of provincial American life.”*
Removing the white male gaze as the dominant voice is a key element of Morrison’s practice, and she doesn’t hesitate calling out black writers who seemed to write to white audiences. Citing RalphEllison, she asks, “The Invisible Man? Invisible to whom?”
As a senior editor at Random House throughout the 1970s, Morrison discovered and championed books by Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, and Bettie Wysor (author of TheLesbian Myth). She also persuaded Angela Davis—then in her late twenties—to write her autobiography.
“Eventually I learned that the book she wanted to publish was the book I wanted to write… She helped me access my imagination in ways I continue to be grateful for today.” — Angela Davis
Song of Solomon (1977) was Morrison’s first best seller, and five years later she left her editor’s post to devote her time to writing and teaching. She’s professor emeritus at PrincetonUniversity, and often told her students, “I know you’ve been told, ‘write what you know.’ I don’t want you to do that. You don’t know anything.”
TONI MORRISON—THE PIECES I AM features interviews with Morrison’s friends and colleagues—Walter Mosley, Farah Griffin, Fran Lebowitz, Paula Giddings, Hilton Als, Sonia Sanchez, editor Robert Gottlieb, and Davis—as well as a rich selection of contemporary artwork by, among others, Mickalene Thomas, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks, David Hammons, and Rashid Johnson.
“Troubled times get the tyrants and prophets they deserve. During our current epoch, the revival of interest in author James Baldwin has been particularly intense. This is in part due, of course, to his ability to analyze and articulate how power abuses through cunning and force and why, in the end, it’s up to the people to topple kingdoms.
“As a galvanizing humanitarian force, Baldwin is now being claimed as a kind of oracle. But by claiming him as such, much gets erased about the great artist in the process, specifically his sexuality and aestheticism, both of which informed his politics.” — Hilton Als*
GOD MADE MY FACE—A COLLECTIVE PORTRAIT OF JAMES BALDWIN—a group show curated by Hilton Als, featuring the work of Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Alvin Baltrop, Beauford Delaney, Marlene Dumas, Ja’Tovia Gary, Glenn Ligon, Alice Neel, Cameron Rowland, Kara Walker, Jane Evelyn Atwood, and James Welling—is on view through mid-February.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Metrograph and Als will present a series of films featuring Baldwin through the years, at home and abroad.