Thursday, November 3, 2016

On Being a Volunteer for CCCADI's Grand Opening Weekend

Street Libation, blessing and procession, outside of CCCADI's new home 

A call for volunteers... 

I am currently a part of the Innovative Cultural Advocacy Fellowship with Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI). In the midst of this cycle, CCCADI put out a call for volunteers in preparation for the grand opening of their new center, a landmark firehouse smack dab in the middle of 125th Street, at the crossroads of East and West Harlem. After many years of renovations and planning, the day had finally come and they had so many amazing and fun things in store to welcome everyone into this wonderful new space. 

The grand opening... 

As a Fellow, I was happy to be invited to the private grand opening on Thursday, October 15th. It was full of VIP's, friends, family and supporters of CCCADI. It was a lovely way to get a first glimpse of the new space as well as the art exhibit installed within two floors of the firehouse (live musicians, passed hors d'oeuvres and cocktails didn't hurt either). I had already signed on to volunteer on Saturday and Sunday, so especially wanted to familiarize myself with the exhibit (where I would be stationed), Home, Memory and Future, curated by the renowned Lowery Stokes Sims along with Yasmin Ramirez, Regina Bultrón Bengoa and CCCADI founder, Dr. Marta Moreno Vega/ The overall exhibit (which will run at CCCADI through early 2017), centering on concepts of home, is presented in three parts. The first part is called "Harlem: East and West," featuring photographers Hiram Maristany, Dawoud Bey and Chester Higgins who have chronicled both East and West Harlem over the course of many years. The second is called "Harlem and Home in the Global Context" featuring contemporary works and installations in a variety of mediums, by artists Antonio Martorell, Abigail DeVille, Pepon Osorio, Whitfield Lovell, Dr. Amalia Mesa-Bains, Adrian "Viajero" Roman, Scherazade Garcia and Nicole Awai. The third part (which took place outdoors, over the weekend, and I was unfortunately not able to see) was he virtual exhibition, "Mi Querido Barrio (My Beloved Community)." This walking tour utilizes "augmented reality" technology as a walking tour focusing on site-specific pieces by local artists, TamikoThiel, Yasmin Hernandez, Adrian "Viajero" Roman, Edgardo Miranda Rodriguez, Alejandro Epifanio, Oliver Rios, Andrew Padilla, Edwin Pagan, Bianca DeJesus, Mariona Lloreta, Kearra Amaya Gopee and Michael Cordero. 

My volunteer experience... and the art... 

On my way up to Harlem on a cool but sunny Saturday, I was excited to be a part of this important event. Even though I am shy by nature, I was prepared to come out of my shell for a while and be the best volunteer I could be. When I arrived at the firehouse, I was happy to see that I was in time for the Street Libation - a beautiful blessing ceremony outside of the firehouse by Babalorisha John Mason, Iyalorisha Angela Fontanez, and Babalorisha Paulo Bispo, surrounded by a huge crowd of us who then walked in a procession all the way around the block, lead by drummers. The whole thing felt powerful and celebratory; especially with the giant "ancestor masks" - faces of Frida Khalo, Arturo Shomberg, Marcus Garvey and Julia de Burgos - floating above us. 

Once the walk was done, the festivities were all open to the public. I was stationed inside of the firehouse, but there were also a whole bunch of things going on in the outdoor lot down the block (performances, kid's art-making, face-painting and DJ battles) and across the street at Positive Workforce, a panel discussion on "Harlem's Cultural History - Uniting Communities - Cultural Spaces." 

I went up to the second floor where the art was, and I was stationed specifically in front of Abigail DeVille's installation piece, "Black Whole." [Here's an interesting description of her work around black holes, I found on "Abigail DeVille’s practice is formally accumulative, occupying a space between the claustrophobia of the urban environment and the expansiveness of the universe. DeVille cultivates awareness of material culture through the collection of its discarded remnants."] Being the building was quite full of guests taking self-guided tours of the galleries, having someone near this large artwork - a wooden structure shaped like a house (that one could walk into and find materials such as glass bottles, trash cans, musical instruments and blinking strobe lights) - seemed like a good idea, if only for logistical reasons. It actually turned out to be a really interesting place to be as a volunteer, since lots of people engaged with me about the work and gave me their interpretations of it. In that way, I thought that this was a very successful, piece of art, in that people not only physically interacted with it (by going inside), so many also felt compelled to have a dialog about it and say what they thought it meant, or what it reminded them of. The ideas I heard were quite vast; everything from ideas around gentrification, displacement, homelessness to memories about Hurricane Katrina and backyards of the Southern US and the Caribbean. 

Saturday was very busy, so even though I was there for a few hours, they flew by. After the galleries closed, I was able to check in with some of my fellow ICA Fellows who were volunteering too, and I had a chance to pop over to the stage area to catch the DJ battle between Sabine and Bjoyce, which was very cool. I ran over to Harlem Shake to have a quick burger with some friends before going home and getting ready to do it all over again the next day! 

And the next day... 

Sunday I came back to Harlem, the sky was overcast and the vibe seemed to be more calm than the day before. I got to check out what was going on around the stage area: story-telling and other stuff for kids and the face-painters, who I must say were killing it with their artistic makeup skills! I was stationed inside of the firehouse to help out near Deville's piece again. It was a little less crowded, but folks were still very much engaged with the artwork. I was able to interact a little bit more throughout the whole gallery floor. Lots of people (kids and adults) came through with their faces beautifully painted too. 

In the end I was glad that I could volunteer for both days of CCCADI's opening weekend. I thought that they all did an amazing job at organizing such a multi-layered event and I was proud to have been at least one small part of history in the making. 

See some of my pics below and @Whippedhoney - and many more of all of the Grand Opening events from CCCADI at this link

Abigail DeVile's "Black Whole" installation at CCCADI Home, Memory and Future exhibition 

Mixed Media piece by Scherazade Garcia 

Altar installation piece by Dr. Amalia Mesa-Bains at CCCADI 

Exhibition wall text for Home, Memory and Future

Installation piece by Pepon Osorio 

Installation piece by Adrian "Viajero" Roman 

Installation piece by Adrian "Viajero" Roman 

Street Libation, procession, ancestor mark of Arturo Shomberg 

Street libation, procession, ancestor masks of Julia de Burgos, Marcus Garvey, Frida Kahlo and Arturo Shomberg

No comments:

Post a Comment

My Work in Debtfair at the Whitney Biennial

A few months ago, I responded to an open call from Occupy Museums for their Debtfair project. OM is a movement born out of Occupy Wall S...