Friday, September 18, 2020
Arts + Culture Black abstractions, charting a "Blank Map"

Black abstractions, charting a “Blank Map”

National Queer Arts Fest kicks off with a psychedelic experiment in collective artmaking, Fri/3-Sun/12.


ON pentTAGE This weekend, Adee Roberson, Brontez Purnell, keyon gaskin, Tasha Ceyan, and Wizard Apprentice come together to present “Blank Map” (Fri/3-Sun/12), a new work that blends movement, music, dance, and visual art to create “Black abstractions influenced by punk, queer, and feminism.” Presented as part of the National Queer Arts Festival, Blank Map is also an experiment in collective art making, with five queer artists at its center provoking questions about personal and shared narratives, ritual-making, and what it means to navigate with intuition as a compass.

So what does it mean, exactly? We caught up with musician, visual artist, and performer Adee Roberson — one of the collective’s members — to learn more about the project.

48 HILLS From the outset, “Blank Map” seems to defy any strict categorization. What’s the philosophy around presenting the work this way?

ADEE ROBERSON In a piece about movement, it’s important to not have something that’s boundaried. Blank Map feels like a punk, radical avant-garde movement piece: there’s no need from us to have it labeled as one kind of thing.

Adee Roberson, Brontez Purnell, keyon gaskin, Tasha Ceyan, and Wizard Apprentice come together for ‘Blank Map’

48H What are the challenges and joys of bringing all these disparate voices into the container of one piece?

AR It’s hard because we all have pretty strong individual practices. Coming to the table with so many people that have years of experience doing things their own way can make it difficult to make decisions and have a set structure. We’re working as a collective, so there’s no director. That makes it harder some times because we have five people saying, “This looks good, or this doesn’t look good.”

I always thought movement and dance were really cool, but I always felt alienated from it and not able to connect. It’s been great to see other people’s process and learn from that. It’s also inspiring to get to work with four other other black artists. Anything they do in my eyes is going to be gold.

48H Where did the name “Blank Map” come from? 

AR We spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. [The collective] came up with it and I was like, “Sure.” But what I read from that name actually has a lot do with my individual work. It’s about creating timelines and maps based on intuition and your own experience because you may not have knowledge of a history or narrative of people who are similar to you. So, creating a piece that’s made by an all queer, black cast… it’s about knowing that there might not have been a lot of documented history about our experiences. We’re coming to the table with the question of “How do we create this map or archive of that experience?” I’m sure [everyone in the collective] has a different take on that.

Artist Adee Roberson
Artist Adee Roberson

Why this piece now with this group of artists? How does “Blank Map” speak to the moment we’re in?

AR I think in the past few years we’ve seen so much violence happening against black people — black queer people, black women. It feels really crucial to create images of non-violence and images of us thriving and our liberation as well. I think this work is reflective of how oppression and constructs are very violent and how we all have our own personal experiences with that. We are so powerful–we’re still surviving and thriving and creating beauty too. I think that is really crucial to see, and it’s something that’s lacking in the dance world and in the art world.

48H How does the idea of psychedelia or fucking around with time and space play out in “Blank Map”? Why is that a theme you’re interested in exploring? 

AR I think about that key point of black liberation — it’s a kind of freedom that comes with improvisation. Things aren’t set in a specific time. It becomes more about engaging what feels right and what feels open. Or engaging with what feels constraining and finding the release from that in that score; in that time. In our own practices, we’ve all been fucking around with that idea forever. It’s a common thread in all of our work.


48H Can you tell me a little bit about how ideas from astrology influence your work in “Blank Map” and beyond?

AR Well, I’m really into astrology because I’m about that expansiveness, liberation, and connecting to the cosmos — to infinity of time and space. I think about that a lot. I have my own personal rituals around the new moon, the full moon, and setting intentions. When it comes to this piece and thinking about astrology, it’s about ritual. It’s about having this group of black queer people create this work together as a ritual that uses energy as raw material. Oppression says we shouldn’t exist, but we’re still here and creating beauty and creating work. It’s been cool to do this project as as challenge to not be so deep in my individual work. Working collectively forces you to engage in collective consciousness.

Fri/3 through Sunday, June 12
8pm, $15-$25
Dance Mission Theater
More info here.


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