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Remembering the Ancestors:
A quick look at art, theater and other events of interest during Black History Month
by D. Kevin McNeir

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It's Black History Month once again. And there are a ton of things that you can do to learn more about Black culture. But before you begin planning your calendar and complaining that you don't have enough time to get it all in, recall how this month first got started. Historian and educator Carter G. Woodson is the man given credit for developing the concept of Black History Month. Actually, he only hoped for one day during which he planned to share knowledge about the continent of Africa and teach young students about important Black men and women of history —those who had traveled to or were born here in America—like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Phyllis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth and others.

But today that 'day' has evolved into one month. And it's a full schedule if you try to attend even half of the many things planned. We'll just mention a few here.

First, there's the theater and there are two shows that grab our attention. Check out Victory Gardens' Bourbon at the Border, the Chicago premier of Pearl Cleage's newest production. The play focuses on two couples whose lives are tragically changed because of their participation as leaders in the civil-rights movement. Their work and the memories from Mississippi not only haunt them, but leave them almost paralyzed—unable to fully live or love. One irony of the play is while the main characters live in Detroit and can 'see' freedom right across the border, they are unable to move and claim that freedom. Cleage is at her best when she tackles topics that most playwrights or authors are afraid of, and this play is no exception. A sneak preview of one scene from the play tells us this is one to look out for Chicago. Miss Cleage has done it again!

Then, on the other side of town (South), there's ETA's Whispers Want to Holler, written by Marta J. Effinger, which runs through Sunday, Feb. 23. The play is set in modern-day Louisiana where Olive Cross is faced with the dilemma of urban renewal and her own personal demons. It's a slow first act and one which needs more action to keep the audience involved, but the second half is certainly worth the wait. In terms of our ancestors, the play illustrates how dependent one generation is upon another. And if we have forgotten our history, it reminds us of the sacrifices that have been made from the moment our first ancestors were captured and forced to come to America through the generation of civil-rights activists and Black nationalists.

Again, the notion of freedom (or the lack thereof) is examined as is the idea of gentrification. The final scenes are particularly moving and if you are familiar with Chicago history, it may cause you to reconsider selling that family plot for a few pieces of silver. We recommend seeing this but hope that the writer and director will make a few necessary script changes to make it more lively and help make the connections in themes more apparent.

Moving to the art scene, there are two events that should be on your calendars. First, TaskForce AIDS Prevention will hold its 2003 community celebration at the DuSable Museum of African-American Art, 740 E. 56th St., on Friday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. The event will be held in the Harold Washington Auditorium and Skylight Gallery and will include a fashion show, silent auction and raffles and will honor Lydia Watts from the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition's HIV/AIDS Bureau. We congratulate her in advance for her outstanding efforts in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention on Chicago's South Side. Call (773) 324-1882 for information— support a worthy cause and see some fantastic art in the gallery.

The second event we've already heard about and can't wait to see is A National Juried Art Exhibition of contemporary art influenced by African Culture. Chuck Gniech, an outstanding artist in his own right and curator for The Gallery of The Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago, 350 N. Orleans St., said he wanted to create an exhibition which would celebrate the variety of influences African culture has had on the contemporary art world.

Artists from around the country entered this juried exhibition—18 were selected by Gniech to exhibit their work. Some of the pieces make reference to slavery, bondage and social challenge and are represented in a variety of media including painting, drawing, sculpture, prints, metalwork, glass and photography. The exhibit runs from Feb. 1-28. An opening reception and awards ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 4 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

And who doesn't enjoy a good film—even a good documentary? While it is certain that PBS will have all kinds of outstanding work for viewers to choose from, like producer/director Stanley Nelson's The Murder of Emmett Till, which premiered Jan. 20th, some local venues have much to offer in the way of quality pieces about Black history.

One example is The Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State Street. During the month of January they presented two Chicago premiers, Nina Simon, Love Sorceress (remember she's the very Afrocentric sister who sang 'Young, Gifted and Black'—three words that once were never used in the same sentence) and Remember Marvin Gaye. While we didn't see the Simone piece, the documentary on Gaye was haunting and moving. Some of Gaye's demons that would ultimately destroy him are mentioned in his own recollections in footage taken during the early 1980s during his two-year hiatus from the U.S. The documentary rocks with live performances as well as some of the best of his music played during scenes in which Gaye is clearly battling to regain control over his life and his most gifted possession—his music writing.

C.C. Carter and Cin Salach

participate in an open-forum book discussion and performance Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m., Kindred Hearts, 2214 Ridge Ave., at the intersection of Ridge and Noyes, in Evanston.

C.C. also hosts her annual Women of Color Night at Mountain Moving Coffeehouse for Womyn Sat., Feb. 22, with many guests including LaTonya Peoples. Starts 7:30 p.m., 1700 W. Farragut (1 blk. north of Foster).

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