Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I came out of my building and slammed into a stench so great you could taste it and practically see it. Anything THAT awesome deserves a closer sniff. I followed my abused nostrils to a garbage can with fresh possum inside.

Poor thing got trapped during nighttime scavenging. Couldn't crawl back up the plastic walls. I felt bad for it but I mostly just wanted it gone. It snarled and displayed pointy little teeth as I lowered a 2x4 escape plank into Its accidental trap. Then I was outta there.
By my afternoon return the critter was gone, stench and all, thank Jeebus.
I can't believe people catch and eat these monster rodents. Humans are strange, ravenous beasts who'll eat just about anything.

But humans are also damn cute.

I finally got Samita Sinha to come to Alabama. Because of her interest in real folk music and real folks, I always thought she'd enjoy exploring the place. Being that her work is very much in line with the goals of The Coleman Center, I connected the two and there you have it.
It was like a miracle seeing my Brooklyn/Queens buddy tramping about this deep South town. But she landed here beaming, pleased by the sultry air and awesome friendly people. Said it all reminded her of India.

For this week-long exploratory visit, Samita brought along Sound Artist, Stephanie Loveless, one of her collaborators out of New York via Montreal.

Inspired by her late, great mentor, Sekou Sundiata, Samita has made the COMMUNITY SING a component of her musical collaborations.
The idea of gathering a group of strangers for a sharing of traditional songs and conversation is brilliant in its simplicity...or simple in its brilliance?

Some of the old songs Samita brought were born right here in Sumter County and all along the Black Belt, recorded and preserved by Alan Lomax for the Smithsonian Institution in the early 20th Century. Such a genius thing to do considering how now, even among the direct descendants of those who originally sang them, the words and tunes are mostly forgotten.
The big beautiful irony is that it took a Samita, this first generation child of immigrants, to bring these powerful songs back home.

We were pleased that Jody White was present and vocal. Jody is a fine singer who also happens to be the great niece of Ruby Pickens Tartt, the maverick woman responsible for introducing Alan Lomax to the people and culture of the region. Jody gave some interesting insight on that history, bringing the conversation to a whole other level.

I work with Jody in the theater department at Demopolis High. She brings me in for periodic residencies and it's just the best time. We've done a good number of dynamic projects together with her theater students. I totally, totally treasure those times and hold Jody in the highest regard.

Samita was kind of blown away by the ease with which Southern people, black and white, take to song. They just belt it out and let it flow. A marked contrast to the more timid Yanks she's used to dealing with. As the project goes forward she'll have to adjust her program to accommodate this very different attitude.

I'll say that probably the best part of the week was simply having the opportunity to hang with an old friend I don't get to see much these days. You know how it goes.

Choctaw County High had me in residency for a few weeks. But it's the charismatic and awesome coordinator, Brandi Clark, who's really responsible for connecting me with this fine institution. I guess she saw the work I did down at Southern Choctaw High a coupla years ago and found me worthy.

The mission again was murals.

I taught the basic elements of drawing. We also covered color and composition, line and detail.

We brainstormed themes and images and dug into old books, magazines, and the internet.

Then we sketched, doodled, scribbled, and traced for a few days straight until every individual had built up a good body of work.
It was up to me to sort through it all and collage the best most representative images according to the chosen theme.

We worked out the color schemes on scale mock-ups.

We got four themes on four panels - Environment, History, Higher Learning, and Pride.

Each panel is about 9'x5'. They were installed in the vestibule of the school.

It's hay baling time down on the farms. And it's time to enjoy some machinery you'll never see in the big city. Check out this Rhino-like Spearing Beast.