Black Magic

Rashaad Newsome

Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art

11:30pm - 12am, Thursday, December 10, 2020
Duffy Square, Broadway and 46th St

Rashaad Newsome, Times Square Arts, and the Leslie-Lohman Museum invite the public to a special live performance in celebration of Newsome’s December Midnight Moment, Black Magic.

Black Magic premieres on December 1, 2020 in commemoration of World Aids Day.

Rashaad Newsome returns to the screens of Times Square with Black Magic, a multi-channel, site-specific work that combines improvisational performance with his animations of mesmerizing, vibrant, and intricately designed graphics. Black Magic is Newsome’s second Midnight Moment, following The Conductor in 2015.

Carefully choreographed across 72 digital displays each night in December, Black Magic carves out a space for transgression and liberation within the dominant culture of Times Square, while also resonating with the district’s long history as a gathering place for celebration, protest, creativity, and performance. It is a fitting close to a year in which Times Square has been a frequent site of rallies and vigils grieving and protesting racial injustice.

Newsome draws heavily from the diasporic tradition of improvisation and collage, which he associates with Jazz music and the unique pastiche culture of his native New Orleans. Object making, film, technology, performance, and community organizing collide to create a gumbo of creative methodologies in his work. In Black Magic, he combines the footage from FIVE, a live vogue performance, with the King of Arms Tincture, an animated graphic pattern which references the architecture, design, and decorative wallpaper of a typical New Orleans lounge and which will also appear on the façade of the Leslie-Lohman Museum in December of 2020.

Black Magic draws from traditions of performance and improvisation born out of Black liberation movements as well as Newsome’s personal experiences growing up in New Orleans. King of Arms Tincture evokes the place-making of domestic lounges and meeting places, while the dancers of FIVE fill a space with vibrant performance. In FIVE, Newsome asked a cast of New York-based performers to respond to and personally reinterpret the idea of ‘Black Magic’ through vogue. Whether the dancers are alone on stage or together as a group, they are always connected through a shared vocabulary of dance moves that has been created within a community.

To expand on Newsome’s idea of dance as a powerful form of resistance and survival, this new iteration of Black Magic will make its world premiere in partnership with the Leslie-Lohman Museum on World AIDS Day — December 1, 2020.

Rashaad Newsome’s (b. 1979, New Orleans, Louisiana) work blends several practices, including collage, sculpture, film, photography, music, computer programming, software engineering, community organizing, and performance, to create an altogether new field. He pulls from the world of advertising, the internet, Art History, Black and Queer culture to produce counter-hegemonic work that walks the tightrope between social practice, abstraction, and intersectionality. Newsome’s work celebrates Black contributions to the art canon and creates innovative and inclusive forms of culture and media.

The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art provides a platform for artistic exploration through multi-faceted queer perspectives. We embrace the power of the arts to inspire, explore, and foster understanding of the rich diversity of LGBTQ+ experiences.

MORE FROM THE ARTIST ON BLACK MAGIC 

“I feel that the power of Black creative and resistance modalities are akin to Quantum Physics. Black individuals have had to possess an enormous amount of strength to navigate systemic racism. That power is amplified to an extraordinary amount when we unite, as is evident in the improvisation we saw in the streets across the country in the wake of George Floyd's murder. This energy is something that has long inspired me, and you can see it in the Black cultural production celebrated and abstracted in my work. Rock, hip-hop, jazz, ballroom, etc. are undoubtedly the crown jewels of American culture and are linked to liberation movements. Black Magic unearths the power embedded in Blackness by referencing creative expression born out of Black sociality.”

ON THE PERFORMANCE

“Vogue fem performance takes center stage in the originally performed piece in 2019 at NY Live Arts and Icebox Project Space in Philadelphia. I see this dance form as an open-source code. The language or binary code is based on five elements: hands performance, catwalk, floor performance, spin dips, and duck-walking. I'm fascinated by how different performers continue to add to the code. Some performers come to it with formal training in West African dance, ballet, Latin dance, hip-hop, and so on. That training becomes the connective tissue fusing the five elements. This new language becomes a new code, one that is shared and learned by another dancer, thus leading to an advanced system comprising all the languages before it. In some ways, one could see FIVE as a hackathon or code fest. This quantum approach is not only explored in the dance but in the music that I compose in real-time during the performance. A gospel choir, gregorian chants, live electronic music, live instrumentation, a vogue MC, and a live opera singer collide, acting as an operating system for the creation of a new sonic reality. As the dancers perform in the frame on the floor, they act as subatomic particles of the group. As we charge them with improvisational energy, a new form of Blackness emerges on the screen above them, one that is radical, abstract, and a part of the collective Black quantum body.”

ON BLACK MAGIC IN COMMEMORATION OF WORLD AIDS DAY 

“The relentless marginalization of the Black Queer comunity has led to systemic oppression, violence, and instability. Despite living under these harsh conditions, people have formed powerful, self-sustaining social networks and culture like the NY Ballroom community, a Black/Latin X Queer artistic community with roots in the Harlem Renaissance. Sadly, many community leaders have been lost to the HIV and AIDS epidemic, and as this culture like many others created by Black people becomes appropriated by the masses, the history of it has the potential to die as well. The videos on the screens are scenes from the 3rd act of the live performance Black Magic. For that act, the dancers were asked to perform Black Magic, the human spirit's strength to navigate systemic racism, homophobia, and a deadly epidemic, with grace and dignity. The performances have been slowed down to focus on the movements of the performers. I see these videos as a memorial to all those lost in the struggle past and present.”

ON THE KING OF ARMS TINCTURE

“For the Midnight Moment iteration of the King of Arms Tincture, I animated the still image to exhibit it to present on the screens. How does one make transgressive work in a space dominated by capitalistic sensibilities? In this context, I see the King of Arms Tincture as an armor creating a more liberatory space for the display of the Queer Black bodies performing within the installation.”