HUMANITAS Winner Ntozake Shange Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Groundbreaking Work
A fresh, new exhibit is on view at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ntozake Shange’s groundbreaking work for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. The show, i found god in myself, curated by Souleo, breathes new life into Shange’s classic choreopoem.
When for colored girls debuted as an off-Broadway play in 1973, it was the height of the Black Arts Movement. Shange set her work apart from the Black aesthetic of the time by creating a feminist aesthetic for women of color, as her work created space for dialogue about the important struggles they were facing. Women of color were called to the foreground out of silence and solitude to share their experiences with love, sexuality, racial identity, domestic violence, rape, abortion, sisterhood and self-love.
Souleo felt the 40th anniversary was a ripe time to reinterpret the work as a visual art presentation. “I began as a poet when I was coming of age of the 13,” the curator/journalist asserts. “The work that Shange has produced is so powerful that it not only affected the lives of women of color, it has affected the LGBT community as well. I’ve been surrounded by strong Black women all my life. As an openly gay person, I connect to the stories of strength, identity and overcoming oppression as well.”
Twenty artists were commissioned for the Schomburg exhibit including Renée Cox, Rafia Santana, Margaret Rose Vendryes, Dianne Smith and Kimberly Mayhorn. Each of the interpretations is accompanied with a quote from the original poems providing a connection between Shange’s text and the art.
Artist Dianne Smith expounds on the theme of domestic violence in her artwork, documenting her personal experience including physical bruises and interviews with other women referencing Shange’s poem “Someone Almost Walked Off With All My Stuff.” Smith then recites the poem adding new lines in a video installation that complements the piece, a sprawling wall roots-grounded in strength.
Amber Robles-Gordon’s work, “My Rainbow Is Enuf,” represents unity, a place of happiness and sisterhood. It’s one of many ways the exhibition celebrates the journey of women of color.
“It still amazes and fascinates me that women of color have kept my work alive for these many generations,” says Ntozake Shange. “Sisterhood is important because we are all we have to stand on. We have to stand near and by each other, pray for one another and share the joys and the difficulties that women face in the world today. If we don’t talk about it among ourselves, then we are made silent by the patriarchy, and that serves us no purpose.”