Uptown Art House Orchestrates Black History Month Programming

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By Maxwell Young, Special to the AFRO

Black History Month is a time for reflection–a recognition of the civic leaders, activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, pioneers and artists who are interwoven into the fabric of American history.  Their respective movements, however groundbreaking, were and still are ostracized; threatened by bigoted opposition and systemic erasure.  Black History Month is a time to amplify such stories and engage African American heritage with intention.

Throughout early February, Uptown Art House, a creative agency and multimedia arts collective in Washington, D.C., is recontextualizing Black narratives through music and performance art.  This Sunday, Feb. 3 at Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center, Uptown Art House will present “Home: A Suite for Gil Scott-Heron.”  And on the following Friday, Feb. 8, resident artist Yacine Fall will debut her exhibition “FED” at Carroll Square Gallery.

Uptown Art House is orchestrating performances during Black History Month including “Home: A Suite for Gil Scott-Heron” and “FED” by Yacine Fall.  (Courtesy Photo)

To the co-founder of Uptown Art House, Jamal Gray, the upcoming work of the agency’s artists and collaborators represents a continuing legacy of change agents whose work has helped to progress the Black condition.

“Art has been one of the few modern industries that people of color have been able to actively participate, and through that work, we’ve added indelible influence to the fabric of modern society on a global scale,” Gray said.

Undoubtedly, Gil Scott-Heron’s artistic imprint still informs soul and jazz genres today.  As part of Millennium Stage’s free performances every day, “Home” will pay tribute to the work of the musician, poet, composer, activist and educator.  D.C.-based experimental jazz troupe Nag Champa Art Ensemble returns to The Kennedy Center for their second time in eleven months, where they will interpret Heron’s classic sounds, in particular, one of his seminal works he created in Washington’s Logan Circle neighborhood, “Winter in America.”  They will be joined by notable members of the new artistic resurgence coined as the ‘Uptown Renaissance:’ Yaya Bey, Meche Korrect and Nate Gski.  The show starts promptly at 6pm.

Although Heron is more widely celebrated in contemporary times, his left-of-center work and persona was not always properly conveyed and embodies a larger phenomenon of undermining and manipulating the efforts of Black people for the sake of consumerism.

“We fight to be represented and credited for our cultural contributions even in the industries of art, music, theater, dance and cinema,” Gray said.

Graduating senior from George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design Yacine Fall will translate this oppression into her performance piece, “FED,” alluding to the privilege and ignorance tied to consumption in America.  During Fall’s opening reception on Feb. 8, she will be bound to a 70-pound steel spoon while fellow performance artists Maps Glover and Ashley Shey serve porcelain cups of oat milk and honey to visitors.

“In our capitalist society, we generally forget that the convenience of our daily lives relies on the labor and time of others.  We overlook the people whose bodies and minds are routinely oppressed and we are complicit in this arrangement,” Fall explained.

“FED” investigates this systematic disconnect on Feb. 8 at 6pm.  The exhibition will remain open until March 9 where there will be a closing artist talk.