Light projection, a series of performances highlights the links between RI and slavery

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In recognition of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, the local nonprofit The Womxn Project organized a three-part series of public art screenings titled ‘Illuminating the Legacy of the slavery in Rhode Island ”.

The series aimed to raise awareness of Rhode Island’s historic ties to slavery and to “motivate participants to work towards an anti-racist future” through illuminated artwork and public performances, including an exhibition at the University’s own. Brown’s Hall, according to the Womxn Project. website.

In 2020, The Womxn Project organized light screenings to support the Black Lives Matter movement and encourage voting in the presidential election. The 2021 series, described as “artivist projections”, engages with the public “as pop-up artistic events with educational purposes,” wrote Cristina DiChiera, co-creator of the series and member of the board of administration of the Womxn Project Education Fund, in an e-mail to Le Héraut.

“With financial support from the RI Humanities Council and the RI State Arts Council, (the Womxn Project Education Fund) brought together artists and academics to create research-based narratives, while performers work with creative writers to bring original readings to each site-specific location, ”the Womxn Project website reads.

A team of around 20 academics, artists and writers worked on the project, according to DiChiera.

“Our projects are meant to elicit a response or shed light on topics that we, as a group, believe are important,” DiChiera wrote.

The exhibit at University Hall included the visual art screening as well as a script titled “More Sugar” written by Providence poet and performer Marlon O’Cary, and read by theater artist Catia Ramos, performer. in residence in Rhode Island. Latino arts.

The script gives a “deeply emotional exploration” of Rhode Island’s association with the slave trade, DiChiera wrote. In the performance, Ramos noted that “over 1,000 slave voyages left Rhode Island ports.”

The Providence visual art exhibition, projecting words that read: “Who benefits from the labor invested in these buildings? and “How do we now benefit from the unpaid work of others?” Was created by illustrator and designer Devon Blow.

Ramos’ reading of “No More Sugar” highlighted the heavy and brutal dependence of the Rhode Island economy on state plantations exploiting slave labor for commodities such as sugar and the rum. “Life on the island plantations was horrible and the life expectancy was less than seven years,” Ramos read.

The series took place on August 23, August 30 and September 20 in Providence, Woonsocket and Cranston, respectively. The locations to display the project were specifically chosen based on their connection to slavery. Brown University was selected because of its founding family’s deep connection to slave travel and work.

Marco McWilliams MA’22, an academic as well as a former program coordinator and educator at the Swearer Center, advised the Womxn Project Education Fund regarding Brown, saying it was important for Brown to recognize his own connection to the slavery and educating the community too. According to the 2006 Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice Slavery and Justice Report, the construction of University Hall relied on the exploited labor of slaves.

“The infrastructure of the University was mostly built by people who (were) enslaved,” which made the University an obvious choice for one of the show’s performance sites, Daria said. Montaquila, member of the board of directors.

“The idea of ​​projecting words and images, which recognize the existence of slaves in Rhode Island, directly onto this iconic building, which was constructed through slave labor, struck us as very powerful and moving. “DiChiera wrote.

It is important to educate the Rotary community about the state’s history with slavery, as many people ignore its deep connection to the slave trade, she added.

DiChiera also pointed out that the legacy of slavery in Rhode Island is still poorly understood to this day. “We were outraged in 2020 when the Speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello (RI) said he did not know if there had ever been slavery in Rhode Island and he had no idea what Juneteenth was, ”DiChiera wrote.

Legislation was introduced in 2021 that aimed to ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” in schools, an action that would have further prevented communities from learning about the state’s history and different perspectives, reiterating the need for further public education, Montaquila said.

“You have to think about where your stories come from because a lot of your stories come from courts and institutions, but often institutions are working for their own benefit,” she explained.

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“When you know people bury the truth, you want to project that truth into huge, luminous letters,” DiChiera added.

The use of art as a tool for educating people is an ongoing effort of The Womxn Project.

People are able to connect with art because it is more accessible than an academic document or a reading, Montaquila added. The Womxn project plans to organize more educational art exhibitions in the future.

“It can’t be that. We cannot be satisfied with Cranston, Woonsocket and Providence when much of Rhode Island was built on the backs of people who were enslaved, ”Montaquila said. “There is so much to learn, and no one is really talking about it.”


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