Diaspora

REVIEW: Ishmael Reed’s Play “The Slave Who Loved Caviar,” Comments on Black Artists and White Sponsors – Post News Group

[Haitian-Puerto Rican American artist, Jean-Michel] Basquiat rose to fame in the neo-expressionist art movement in the 1980s and [Andy] Warhol, one of his mentors, had gained renown for Pop Art and drug use in the 1960s. They died within a year of each other, Warhol at age 59 in 1987 and Basquiat died of an overdose at age 27 in 1988.
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By Wanda Sabir
Ishmael Reed’s current play, directed by Carla Blank, “The Slave Who Loved Caviar,” at Theater for the New City until January 9, explores Black culture and white exploitation in the relationship between the Haitian-Puerto Rican American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol.
Basquiat rose to fame in the neo-expressionist art movement in the 1980s and Warhol, one of his mentors, had gained renown for Pop Art and drug use in the 1960s. They died within a year of each other, Warhol at age 59 in 1987 and Basquiat died of an overdose at age 27 in 1988.
There are so many analogous parallels, both fictional or mythic and actual that it is amazing that the play only has one intermission.
In his play, Reed postulates that the older, white artist presented himself as a benevolent father figure. While under the influence of drugs, a willing Basquiat allows Warhol to install him in a basement where Basquiat churns out art like an assembly worker.
Reed’s premise here is that Warhol had gotten away with a crime.
The cold case is reopened by two forensic scientists, Grace and Raksha, (Monisha Shiva and understudy Kenya Wilson) who want to bring the perpetrators to justice. As the contemporary team investigates, time shifts back and forth as what happened to Basquiat had perpetuated with other captives.
Slave owners used cocaine — which Basquiat used excessively — to increase productivity among the captives, Reed says. Just as slavery was once legal, the Warhol machine also had legal protection, money and power.
Reed’s writing is crisp and sharp as are the actors who deliver and deliver and deliver some more. Carla Blank’s direction is also on point as the diction and storylines unfold clearly in nuanced layers.
I love the scene in Act 2 where the ghost of Richard Pryor — appearing as a shadow puppet danced by actor, Kenya Wilson — tries to prevent Basquiat from going up in chemical flames like the late comedian had.
Pryor’s ghost speaks to the art of selling out to Hollywood, another type of killing field for Black art and artists. We sense Pryor’s regret that he didn’t stay with people who loved him. It’s hard to tell friend from foe when engulfed in f(l)ame(s).
Reed’s characters also convey the prevailing attitudes by police that allow the wealthy and famous to get away with everything from theft to murder, a very real problem on and off the page.
Roz Fox’s Detective Mary van Helsing is a cool sleuth who goes looking for the missing appetizer, “Jennifer Blue” (actor Kenya Wilson) despite legal disinterest. She is our hero. Don’t worry, this is a spoiler, but there is so much going on here, you will probably forget I told you.
In “Slave” we see too often how historians are propagandists who lie to keep the empire solvent.
Remember Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in “1984”? I am reminded also of Jimi Hendrix (1970) and his demise—yes to a drug overdose. . . Fuquan Johnson (2021), Shock G (2021), Juice WRLD (2020), Billie Holiday (1959), Whitney Houston (2012), The Artist Formerly Known as Prince (2006), Michael Jackson (2009).
Since it is Ishmael Reed, we can actually have a happy ending.
The late bell hooks wrote in “Outlaw Culture: ‘Altars of Sacrifice: “Re-membering Basquiat’,” that the young, yet masterful artist “journeyed into the heart of whiteness.
White territory he named as a savage and brutal place. The journey is embarked upon with no certainty of return. Nor is there any way to know what you will find or who you will be at journey’s end. . . . Basquiat understood that he was risking his life—that this journey was all about sacrifice [. . .]” (36). this and his refusal to allow the dominant culture to tell our story, the 99%, the percentage who matter.
How difficult it must have been for the artist to have his say as he dangled from a purveyor’s noose. Herein lies Black genius. Herein lies the tragedy. Ishmael Reed’s ability to cultivate success for the past 60 or so years stems from his artistic eReed’s research is impeccable—I lose track of some of the names, like the artist who boycotts with other Black artists a museum that sets out to exploit them.
Reed is certainly prescient as is the Theater for The New City’s Artistic Director Crystal Field. As confederate monuments are toppled throughout the nation and reparations are a very real possibility, “The Slave Who Loved Caviar” certainly sets a precedent. “Slave” is a challenge and a wakeup call to those who have not been paying attention to the right thing. “Slave” says, change the channel. What did the Last Poets say about the Revolution?
The play is streaming through Jan. 9, 2022, at Theater for the New City. Streaming tickets are just $10+ small fee. For in person ($15.00) and virtual tickets visit https://ci.ovationtix.com/35441/production/1091241
You can learn more about Reed on my radio or podcast interview here.
We had a conversation with many members of the cast January 5, 2022 on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show podcast. Tune in (subscribe): http://tobtr.com/12046944
 
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Located in the heart of Swan’s Market, the center’s walls and ceilings are covered with bold painted letters and designs. Chapter 510 also has a retail store where you can purchase a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words, ‘Poetry is Power,’ in addition to beautifully designed books, posters, and notebooks.
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By Irena Knight
There was a celebration last weekend at 546 9th St., Chapter 510’s new home. Also known as the Dept. of Make Believe, the space offers free writing workshops, bookmaking, and publishing opportunities for young people of color.
Located in the heart of Swan’s Market, the center’s walls and ceilings are covered with bold painted letters and designs. Chapter 510 also has a retail store where you can purchase a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words, ‘Poetry is Power,’ in addition to beautifully designed books, posters, and notebooks.
During the pandemic, Chapter 510, like many others, conducted online classes. Chapter 510’s teaching artists currently conduct programs at several Oakland schools including Franklin Elementary, Westlake Middle, MetWest High School and more.
In 2013, Janet Heller founded the center with Tavia Stewart to provide space for Black, Brown and queer youth to write and share their stories. The new space will allow Chapter 510 to expand their current programs, and in the future, offer podcasting and bookmaking.
At their opening weekend, Heller said, “Students of color need a space emotionally and physically where they can be supported by adults of color to write, edit, and publish.”
She emphasized that such a space has to be beautiful: “Light, air, and color is essential for creativity.”
The organization’s budget for 2021/ 2022 is $850,000 and the goal, according to their website, is to grow to $1.2 million by 2022/2023. To date, the center has raised $1.1 million. Heller said the center is supported by government, foundation, and institutional giving.
Think about buying your holiday gifts at the center’s retail store and supporting programs for youth of color. For more information, go to www.chapter510.org or call (510) 469-0108.
As a former preschool teacher, Niesha Roary has read hundreds of children’s books. This inspired her to write her own children’s book. Roary’s writing mission is to increase the racial diversity in children’s literature.
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By Godfrey Lee
Niesha Roary, who was born and raised in Marin City, shared from her first children’s book, “Very Victoria: Moving to Michigan” Saturday, December 4 at the Marin City Library on 164 Donahue St. The program was attended by youth and adults. The youths each received a copy of the book.
The book was illustrated by Kseniia Pavska. It was published by Regal Readers Publishing on November 8, 2021. The book can be ordered through Amazon or bought at Barnes and Noble for $12.99.
Roary, the daughter of Donnie Roary, who is also an alum of Performing Stars of Marin while growing up in Marin City,
Roary earned a master’s degree in Health Service Administration from Central Michigan University. She currently lives in Orion, Mich., and teaches at a community college.
As a former preschool teacher, Roary has read hundreds of children’s books. This inspired her to write her own children’s book. Roary’s writing mission is to increase the racial diversity in children’s literature.
“We need more of these role models so our young kids can see that you can grow up here, but you can be an achiever and you can be successful and give back to the community,” said Felecia Gaston, director of Performing Stars told the Marin IJ.
“Very Victoria Moving to Michigan,” is loosely based on Roary’s real-life experience of moving to Michigan. The reader will take a journey with Victoria as she describes her thoughts and feelings about her upcoming move to Michigan.
The Amazon book review says, “Victoria is a 6-year-old girl who lived in California with both her mother and father. One day Victoria’s mother sat her down to let her know that at the end of summer they would be moving to Michigan. Not only would Victoria have to move away from a familiar place, family and friends but her dad, also.
Victoria offers some insight into a child’s mind when adults make decisions that will ultimately affect the child. This book is ideal for parents and children to read together and discuss the child’s thoughts and feelings surrounding a new move.
With bold and colorful illustrations, readers will see how Victoria coped with her new reality. Most importantly this heartwarming book reminds us that the unbreakable connections between the ones we love go on, no matter how far apart you are.
Roary dedicates her book to her grandmothers: “Alberta Roary and the late Ida Banks for raising her to be the woman she is today.”
Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993).
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By John Santos
We’ve lost a Rosetta Stone.
Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson passed in his sleep Monday morning due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease and having been weakened by a bout with COVID-19 at the beginning of the year. He would’ve completed his 89th year on December 30.
Born on Dec. 30, 1932, Thompson was a White Texan who spectacularly disproved the fallacy of White supremacy through his pioneering and tireless elevation and clarification of African art, philosophy and culture. He removed the blinders and changed the way that generations of international students see African art.
A U.S. Army veteran, he went to Yale on a football scholarship and earned a B.A. in 1955. He joined the faculty in 1964 and earned his Ph.D. in 1965. He remained on the faculty until 2015.
‘Master T,’ as his students and friends often referred to him, was the Col. John Trumbull professor of the History of Art and professor of African American Studies at Yale University.
Thompson was also an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Maryland Institute College of Art.
He curated game-changing national exhibitions such as “African Art in Motion,” “The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds,” and “Faces of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas.” The latter had a run at U.C. Berkeley in 1995 when local practitioners of African spirituality and musicians — including myself – demonstrated the powerful knowledge of tradition.
Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993). If he did not coin, he certainly standardized the term ‘Black Atlantic.’ He was a brilliant presenter, writer and teacher. But unlike many if not most academicians, he was also loved, revered and respected by the musicians, artists and communities about whom he wrote.
Initiated in Africa to Erinle, the deity of deep, still water, Thompson was hip, quirky and totally immersed in African and African-based music, dance, language, art and history. His lifetime of research, immersion and visionary work formed a bridge between Black America and her African roots.
Countless trips to Africa, the Southern U.S., the Caribbean and Central and South America informed his passionate work. He wrote about sculpture, painting, architecture, dance, music, language, poetry, food, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, African history, stolen antiquities, African spirituality, African retention, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Black Argentina, New York, México, mambo, tango, jazz, spirit possession and so much more. He recorded African drumming. He befriended giants of African diaspora music such as Julito Collazo, Babatunde Olatunji and Mongo Santamaría.
I first saw his writing around 1970 on the back of the classic red vinyl 1961 Mongo Santamaria LP, Arriba! La Pachanga (Fantasy 3324). They are inarguably among the deepest liner notes ever written.
He told me that he used our 1984 recording, Bárbara Milagrosa, by the Orquesta Batachanga, to demonstrate danzón-mambo to his students. I nearly burst into tears when he invited me and Omar Sosa to address and perform for his students at Yale, his alma mater, where he was a rock star. It was an unforgettable occasion for me.
He wrote wonderful liner notes on our 2002 Grammy-nominated production SF Bay, by the Machete Ensemble. He went out of his way to support and encourage countless students and followers like me. I was highly honored to count him as a friend as well as mentor.
He will be missed.
John Santos is a seven-time Grammy-nominated percussionist and former director of Orquesta Batachanga and Machete Ensemble and current director of the John Santos Sextet.
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Onesimus. It is a name we don’t hear when we look at the history of vaccinations, but in the United States we owe a debt of gratitude to an African Slave named, Onesimus. In this video, voiced by writer and political activist, Baratunde Thurston, learn how Onesimus shared a traditional African inoculation technique that saved countless live from Smallpox and become the foundation for vaccine as we know them today, including the COVID Vaccine.

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