BAM Guest Curator Hanif Abdurraqib Releases Essay Collection on Black Performance

BAM Guest Curator Hanif Abdurraqib Releases Essay Collection on Black Performance
Hanif Abdurraqib. Photo credit: Megan Leigh Barnard.

In his new essay collection, ‘A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance,’ award-winning poet, cultural critic, and BAM Guest Curator at Large Hanif Abdurraqib examines the history of Black performance in the U.S. It was Abdurraqib’s unique approach to music criticism in general that sparked the interest of BAM’s artistic director, David Binder, who sought Abdurraqib out for the role.

“He writes about so many different kinds of artists, who cross all different genres and styles,” said Binder. “It’s pretty rare that you find someone in music who crosses so many genres. He doesn’t just write a piece about Bruce Springsteen or A Tribe Called Quest – he’s writing about how Bruce Springsteen or A Tribe Called Quest illuminate the world in which those artists are making their work.”

Abdurraqib — whose live virtual talk with New York Times’ Wesley Morris on March 31st, part of BAM’s Unbound series, celebrates the launch of his new book — joined BAM in January.

While the names of artists he plans to showcase are still under wraps, Abdurraqib is excited about the opportunities presented by BAM’s diverse network of performance and rehearsal spaces.

“They have so many different physical spaces, and access to so many different physical spaces,” Abdurraqib told Bklyner. “And with that, there’s a type of freedom – there’s a malleability that could really come to life.”

Abdurraqib plans to give artists as much of that freedom as possible.

“I’m not a director – I’m just someone who’s a fan of musicians and a fan of music-makers and a fan of visual artists,” he said. “So it really behooves me to say ‘I would love to see you do something’ and then get out of the way and let that person make it happen. It’s all a work of trust.”

What Abdurraqib will do for BAM, Binder explained, “is expand our curatorial view, and to help us think about music in the context of bigger cultural conversations.” Abdurraqib, along with BAM’s other Guest Curator at Large, Larry Ossei-Mensah, “are pushing the boundaries of what the conversations are that we’re having,” said Binder, by bringing in new artists and artistic disciplines.

One of these conversations centers on the idea of futurism; Abdurraqib’s work is featured in the book ‘Black Futures‘ by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham, a collection of work from Black creators centered on the idea of present and future possibility for Black people.

“I’ve been thinking about the future,” Abdurraqib told Bklyner. “And futurism. And performances that feel as though they are mapping out the unknown world in which Black people are still living and thriving. To bring that to the stage in whatever way possible.”

Being included in the BAM lineup presents a particularly valuable opportunity for Black performers, Abdurraqib said.

“These really adventurous and thoughtful Black performers are eager for a space like BAM, because it allows them real creative freedom to do some things that they otherwise might not be able to do on a different stage, in a different place.”

While nothing is official yet, Abdurraqib is hoping to schedule performances starting in late summer or early fall, he said. The process of planning has been somewhat nerve wracking, due to the pandemic.

“It’s been anxiety-inducing because of the uncertainty of what the future of live music is gonna be. And so it’s hard to plan because of that.”

While BAM is currently planning a variety of programming in outdoor spaces throughout Brooklyn, the hope, Binder said, is “to get back onto our stages as soon as we can.”

Anyone anxiously anticipating the return of BAM’s live shows can look forward to outdoor programs like Influences, a modern dance performance on ice, in April; 1:1 Concerts, a one-on-one musical experience, in May; a production of playwright Aleshea Harris’ new play, What to Send Up When It Goes Down, and a series of installations from multimedia storytelling company Pop-Up Magazine, both in June; and the U.S. premiere of interactive public art piece Arrivals + Departures by artist duo YARA + DAVINA, open now until April 11th. Programming will take place in locations across Brooklyn, and will adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.

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