September 19, 2014

Funk-Driven Art Highlights Brooklyn Neighborhood's Past

At the Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn visitors can explore homes that still stand from a 19th century black settlement.

"A group of African Americans purchased land, which afforded them the right to vote, and then began to build a self-sustaining activist community for other free African Americans around 1838," says Tia Powell Harris, the Executive Director of the Weeksville Heritage Center. "We have a radical story to tell here and it needs to be told."

To bring the conversation to the present day, the public art organization Creative Time asked four artists to create new works of art inspired by the self-empowerment vision of Weeksville.

"We're doing a project called OJBK radio. It is a temporary, guerrilla-style radio station that will be on the corner of Fulton and Utica. It will be housed in a sound sculpture and takes the form of a 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville," says Robert Pruitt, an artist with the Otabenga Jones and Associates Art Collective.

Each artist found a theme with the help of his or her community partner, and so the exhibit is called "Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn."

"What does black radical Brooklyn look like today? What does it look like to take control over your community, your radio station, your images, your health and your design? And so we're thinking about that in terms of what makes Black Radical Brooklyn radical today," notes Rashida Bumbray, a Guest Curator at Creative Time.

There are lots of interactive components to the project, including one called An Urban Rhapsody in FUNKtional Design, with an emphasis on Funk.

"Zenobia Bailey has been working with these high school students to actually make what she calls funk-ified objects, where they take cardboard and newspapers and materials of everyday life, and she makes couture objects that they're installing into one of these historic homes," said Nato Thompson, Creative Time's Chief Curator.

Visitors can explore the artworks here and nearby through self-guided walking tours each weekend through October 12.

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