Broadway Play 'For Colored Girls' Inspires New Works from 20 Artists

20 artists create work inspired by the poetry of Ntozake Shange's seminal poem, 'for colored girls.'

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Oct 19 2016, 1:40pm

My spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of soul & gender - Guro Ntozake, 2014, Margaret Rose Vendryes. Oil and cold wax on canvas, painted wood Guro mask, 36 x 78 x 5.5 in

The mission of the African American Museum in Philadelphia is to interpret art and history of black Americans. Its new exhibition, i found god in myself: the 40 anniversary of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls…, curated by Peter "Souleo" Wright, celebrates the legendary 1976 Broadway play, for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf. Shange’s play of 20 hybrid “choreo-poems” inspired the museum to commission a group of 20 artists, including Renee Cox, Rafia Santana and Alexandria Smith, to make works that touch on the star poem’s themes of self-love, black femininity, and sisterhood.

Half-notes Scattered, 2014, Kimberly Mayhorn. Photo: Jonathan Blanc

“The exhibition, i found god in myself: the 40 anniversary of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls…, was inspired first and foremost by Dr. Shange’s choreo-poem,” explains Wright to The Creators Project. “When I first read the text I was enamored with its poetic and visual language. On a purely literary level the work is filled with rich similes and metaphors that paint a picture."

“Then in rereading the text," he shares, "the emotional weight of that poetry began to impress itself upon me. I began to see my mother, my sisters, my friends, and even parts of myself within the work as these women dealt with issues of identity, race, sexuality, and love.” The curator focused his efforts so that exhibition“stretches the imagination and the scope and depth of our experience with both the art and the text. We can begin to see and read things anew.”

darkmuskoilegyptiancrystals&floridawater/redpotionno.1, 2014, Beau McCall. Photo: Jonathan Blanc

The show, which takes its name from the play’s most memorable line, “i found god in myself / & i loved her/ i loved her fiercely,” sees the commissioned artists use individual poems from the play to cast the play's themes in a contemporary light. Amber Robles-Gordon’s My Rainbow is Enuf is inspired by the poem “a layin on of hands.” The mixed-media wall piece is a 10' long chicken wire and fabric rainbow sculpture that alludes to the yearning of freedom and self-respect found in Shange’s play. Artist Kathleen Granados’ knitted sculptural interpretation of “no assistance," a poem recited by the Lady in Red, evokes the character’s expression of strength and self-worth in the aftermath of a dissolved love affair. AndréTavet, the artist collective behind the photo series, i usedta live in the world, uses Shange’s text on street harassment, to explore the contemporary issue of sexual and physical violence against transgender folk. The exhibition also features non-commissioned works by artists Carrie Mae Weems, Deborah Willis, Saya Woolfalk, and Colette Fu, which touch upon sexuality, violence, and love depicted in for colored girls.

My Rainbow is Enuf, 2014, Amber Robles-Gordon

i usedta live in the world, 2016, André St. Clair and Tavet Gillson of artist collective AndréTavet

“Collectively, these visual creations give new dimension to Dr. Shange’s text,” says Wright. “Working on this project I’ve been able to see how visual art can move viewers to tears, laughter and deep reflection.” He continues, “I want audiences to walk away having a deep emotional engagement with both the visual art and Dr. Shange’s choreo-poem. I want them to see themselves, their loved ones and strangers within the exhibition.” He adds, “I want viewers to understand the ways in which the text is universal. Yes, its primary audience was and is ‘colored girls,’ but as any great work of art does, it speaks to all of humanity.”

no assistance, 2014, Kathleen Granados

i found god in myself: the 40 anniversary of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls… continues through January 2, 2016 at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. For more information, click here

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