A. M. Weaver has devoted much of her working life to social awareness and activism through the arts. With her latest project, Ceremonies of Dark Men, she is taking participants on a journey through the American landscape through a lens not often enough explored.
It was in the mid 1990s when Weaver met Donald Camp, a newspaper photographer working on a side project she found interesting. "He used art forms that represented black males, educated black males," Weaver told me over the phone on a cold Monday morning after making herself some coffee. "Photography of black men to counter what he saw in the media." This work of countering media portrayals of black men, called "Dust Shaped Heart," is now an ongoing project. The title of the work was inspired by the Robert Hayden poem, Heart-shape in the dust.
After seeing Camp's work and "Boxing in the Shadows," an unpublished manuscript by poet Afaa Michael Weaver, curator A. M. Weaver saw the potential for photography and poetry by black men, about black men, to create a true and authentic view into the lives of black men that is so desperately needed on a large public scale.
Friday December 12, Ceremonies of Dark Men, or CoDM, Multimedia begins at the Lincoln Theatre, ushering in "a moment in time, poised as an opportunity to celebrate, revel and reflect on the lives of black men in new contexts." Part of the Washington, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities 5 x 5 Project, CoDM consists of five curators, Weaver being one of them, who then choose five different artists to work with, and Weaver has multiplied these connections of five to an exponential degree, creating an experience that encompasses the participant, and the Washington, DC area. The opening event for CoDM will feature some of the artists whose work appear in the billboards, such as poet Major Jackson, as well as live musical performances by The Cornel West Theory.
"It's always been my mission to continue a positive narrative for the black male within the racist constructs of the world," said musician and international DJ King Britt, who will be performing at the CoDM in collaboration with film makers Larry Cook, Rashid Johnson, Alexis Peskine and Jefferson Pinder. "I always love to contribute to my comrades' journeys as well." Britt continued, "This is one of those journeys. I feel my role in this show is right within my vision, change through sound." Britt has been doing quite a lot of changing through sound in Philadelphia, as he has partnered with The Village of Arts and Humanities to bring access to music-making technology, very literally, to the streets, with programs like The Stoop, where every Monday from August through October he held listening parties for youth. Playback Music is the result of that work as he continues to be an activist for black youth. Britt recently incorporated police scanner recordings, from the night of Mike Brown's death, into an emotional score for a multimedia live show at St John's Church in St. Louis, Missouri while participating in marches in Ferguson.
The billboards and banners of photographs and poems for CoDM will be in and around Washington, DC. They will feature work from photographers Donald Camp, Larry Cook, Isaac Diggs, Michael Platt, and Stan Squirewell are paired with poems from Kenneth Carroll, Major Jackson, Fred Joiner, E. Ethelbert Miller, and Afaa Michael Weaver will be displayed on five billboards throughout the city. Through a Layar App, audiences will be able to obtain more information about each photograph and poem, read and hear recitations of the related poem, and participate in actions through online mediums. This outdoor interactive experience through the art forms of poetry and photography are meant to directly counter dehumanizing aggressive media portrayals of black men by showing black men, as they are: complex people, and not racialized caricature. People who go to work every day, people who love their families, people who create the world around us.