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Thursday, May 5, 2016

University of Minnesota Hosts Black Feminism Cornerstone Event

Sponsored by the Winton Chair in the College of the Liberal Arts, this three-day event was made possible by the efforts of black feminists who sought to bring greater awareness to black cultural life and politics through poetry and performance. Using voice, storytelling, and deep collaboration, these artists, scholars, and intellectuals invigorate the meaning and practice of community. In the era of Black Lives Matter, the intensive Cornerstone event examined how black feminist queer existence and influence informs current practices and life by centering love, realness and each other. By incorporating art, discussion, interactive presentations, oral histories and singing, the conference entitled, Learning to Breathe: Black Feminism, Performative Pedagogies, and Creative Praxis, exuded creativity, innovation, and celebration. Here is an insight into just a few of the inspiring events:

Thursday’s schedule kicked off with Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, a self-described feminist, storyteller, poet, historian, archaeologist, and artist--a “renaissance women,” if you will. Her event, titled “Love is Life Force,” invited the audience to take part in an interactive discussion around black feminism and its present position. Attendees were introduced to such leading black women as Harriet Tubman, Toni Cade Bambara, and Essex Hemphill, learning through the influence they have throughout time and space on black imagery.

Moving into theater and the arts, the founders of MaMa mOsAiC Theater in Minneapolis, Shá Cage and Signe Harriday, discussed their collaborative efforts in forming the theater and the bold moves they made. In an effort to bring attention to the marginalized, their theater work often focuses on women of color and their position in the arts as a way to break down the roles that have traditionally suppressed them and limited their success. Their dialogue set the stage for the community performance to follow, The Blacker the Berry.

Combining various pieces into a whole, The Blacker the Berry featured eight different original pieces created through “radical collaborative” workshops of local black female artists. Many different generations were represented on stage, but the vast majority of the women were young and nearly all were performing for their first time with MaMa mOsAiC. Hip-hop, traditional African music, poetic text, symbolic movement and voguing were just some of the mediums used to make visible the rich but often marginalized stories of black women and black queer culture.

Andrea Jenkins, who performed an autobiographical poem in The Blacker the Berry about coming to terms with her identity as a black trans woman, also served as the keynote earlier in the programming. Titled The “T” Is Not Silent, the goal of her talk was to raise further awareness to the tensions of trans identities in black queer feminist discourse. Jenkins is a local leader and voice for the Minnesota black trans community, taking the time to highlight the intersectionality of black feminism and black queer/trans identity in Minneapolis and elsewhere.

There were many more events that shed light on the work being done in the arts around feminism and Black Culture. The Winton Chair sponsors events like Learning to Breathe as a way to provide space for individuals to “question established patterns of thought.” Three to five days long, cornerstone events support the campus visits of exceptionally innovative individuals or groups of scholars and artists without regard for traditional conceptions of discipline or medium. Keeping with the Winton Chair’s mission, these visits aim to catalyze new intellectual relationships within and among College of Liberal Arts, the University, and the broader community. Cornerstone visitors are encouraged to think outside conventional forms of academic presentation and pedagogy.

-Written by Amanda Kruger and Daniel Sbriglio