Alan Rice reports on the symposium Art, Politics and Performance in the Black Atlantic 1789-2016 that took place from April 14-15th 2016 and was supported by the BAAS Small Conference Support Grant.
The Institute for Black Atlantic Research (IBAR) at the University of Central Lancashire held an interdisciplinary academic event to showcase Transnational figures in historical Black Atlantic culture and to highlight important new figures and movements in African Atlantic culture. An exciting feature of the event were two performances, one by Liverpool-based, Tayo Aluko, who presented Call Mr Robeson, a show that highlighted the career of the seminal performer, actor and political activist, Paul Robeson.
Aluko’s rich Nigerian baritone voice highlighted the power of Robeson’s voice and personality in a play that also foregrounded his oppression by the American State and his reaction to it. The other performance was by Benbo Productions from Dublin who brought their show The Cambria, which showcased Frederick Douglass’s liberating sojourn to Ireland in 1845.
Donal O’Kelly and Sorcha Fox’s wonderful renditions of a multitude of characters including Douglass captivated the audience. As well as theatre, the symposium showcased young black Scarborough-based artist Jade Montserrat who presented her video performances of Paris domiciled dancer, Josephine Baker’s Rainbow Tribe, that explored Baker’s adoption of a multi-racial family of children.
The academic element of the symposium interweaved amidst these artistic elements and included keynotes from George Lipsitz and Barbara Tomlinson from University of California, Santa Barbara’s Black Studies Department who discussed contemporary race relations in the United States, especially police violence against black people. Other keynotes were Celeste Marie Bernier from Nottingham on portrayals of Douglass and his family and Lisa Merrill from Hofstra, New York on black bodies in antebellum spaces.
The audience overall was around 30 people, with academics from Swansea to Durham and American Literature and culture undergraduates and postgraduates supported through BAAS funding.
Alan Rice is Professor in English and American Studies at the University of Central Lancashire.