Tuesday, 6 December 2011

LA Experience!

Los Angeles (LA) is often billed as the “Creative Capital of the World”, due to the fact that one in every six of its residents works in a creative industry. So, it was with much excitement that I arrived in LA on Thanksgiving (24th November) and spent 10 days there checking out whether this fact was accurate. It is!

The performing arts play a major role in LA's cultural identity and I felt that almost immediately – well the 2nd night actually, when I went along with my friend Mekada Graham, to Santa Monica beach, a very cool place where we came across a few talented street performing artists. First up was Naia Kete http://www.naiakete.com/ who sang and played guitar with two other musicians – fabulous! Then something completely different in the name of street violin performed by Josh Vietti http://www.joshvietti.com/ who is on his way to becoming the world's premier Pop violinist. Josh brings the two worlds of classical music and pop together in an original manner that has not been done before. He crosses genres, ethnicities and age – brilliant!

Next it was the California African-American Museum (CAAM) http://www.caamuseum.org/ Walking through the doors at CAAM and into the galleries, the impact of history, beauty and discovery can take your breath away. It began with Women: Game Changers, the giant banners celebrating 70 women of colour and achievement, their names and greatness undervalued, lesser known and here celebrated. In the Gallery of Discovery, we honoured the nameless, faceless ones who made it possible for African Americans to grow in power and beauty. Miguel Covarrubias was enchanted by the sights, sounds and colours of African American people. He captured that throughout his career.

In Places of Validation, Art and Progression, history and art kept unfolding as we looked deeper into what the world was like for Black artists, collectors, galleries and other institutions between 1940-1980. Just walking through, standing, looking and soaking up history, ancestry, I was left with a great insight into just what these people had done. It felt triumphant.

A thoroughly wonderful historic experience was a visit to The Getty Villa, which is dedicated to the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria and modeled after the Villa dei Papiri, a Roman country house in Herculaneum buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Because most of the Villa dei Papiri remains excavated, many of the Getty Villa's architectural details are based on elements drawn from other ancient Roman homes in the towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae.

Over 1,200 works of art from the J. Paul Getty Museum's permanent collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities are on view at the Getty Villa. The galleries, organised by theme, include Gods and Goddesses, Dionysos and the Theatre and Stories of the Trojan War, among others. I particularly enjoyed the gardens; the Outer Peristyle, Inner Peristyle, Herb Garden, and East Garden, which are planted with species from the Mediterranean region.

On 29th November, my friend Mekada had arranged for me to do a talk at the California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) http://www.csudh.edu/  where she is an Associate Professor. I shared a summary of my freelance work in the field of literary arts over the last 15 years, which included studying, writing, editing, community development/activist work, guest appearances on mainstream radio, book productions and readings, hosting monthly Shangwe Poetry events at the Poetry CafĂ© and much more.

CSUDH is located in a 346-acre campus and educates the most ethnically and racially-diverse student body in the US. Hispanic people comprise 40% of the student body, and African-American people 31%. White people represent 18% while 6% are Asian or Pacific Islander people and 0.6% are American Indian. CSUDH serves one of the poorest areas of LA County.

One totally unexpected and pleasant surprise was discovering that one of my favourite icons of the 70s was appearing at Hammer Museum http://www.hammer.ucla.edu/ on 1st December – what a great start to the month! The legendary Angela Davis and author Robin Levi participated in Hammer Conversations debating recent work, which has focused on incarceration and the criminalisation of communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. Angela Davis' most recent books are Abolition Democracy:Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire and Are Prisons Obsolete? A book signing followed the conversation, where I made several attempts to take some pictures.

Then it was a quick look at Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, a comprehensive exhibition, which examines the vital legacy of the city's African American visual artists, who – through their work and their connections with other artists from a variety of ethnic backgrounds – made up an important part of the creative community. Including 140 works by 35 artists, many of whom are not well known to the public, Now Dig This! expands the art historical record, placing the work of these African American practitioners within the context of the movements, trends, and ideas that fuelled the arts in Los Angeles during this period. Many of these artists also responded to the civil rights and Black Power movement, and their work reflects the changing sense of what constituted African American identity and American culture.

Photos in ascending order:
Naia Kete;
Naia Kete and her band;
Josh Vietti;
Nicole Moore at California African American Museum;
Nicole Moore at the Getty Villa;
Angela Davis at her book signing at Hammer Museum.