Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.
But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.
So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.
--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody
(photo: Tara Lyn Pixely)
André M. Zachery is a Chicago-bred and now Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist, scholar and technologist with a BFA from Ailey/Fordham University and MFA in Performance & Interactive Media Arts from CUNY/Brooklyn College. As the artistic director of Renegade Performance Group his practice, research and community engagement artistically focuses on merging of choreography, technology and Black cultural practices through multimedia work. André is a 2016 New York Foundation for the Arts Gregory Millard Fellow in Choreography and 2019 Jerome Hill Foundation Fellow in Choreography.
His works through RPG have been presented domestically and internationally, receiving support through several residencies, awards, commissions. These have included the CUNY Dance Initiative, Performance Project Residency at University Settlement, ChoreoQuest Residency at Restoration Arts Brooklyn, 3LD Art & Technology Center, HarvestWorks and a Jerome-supported Movement Research AIR. Awarded grants have been from the Brooklyn Arts Council, Harlem Stage Fund for New Work and a Slate Property SPACE Award. Commissions have come from the Brooklyn Museum, Five Myles/BRIC Biennial and Danspace Project.
RPG has earned mentions and favorable reviews from publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Culturebot, InfiniteBody, Futuristically Ancient, Hyperallergic, The Brooklyn Rail, The Daily News and AFROPUNK. As a technologist, André has collaborated with various artists through RPG, the design team of 3LD Art & Technology Center and The Clever Agency. These works have included design installations, immersive media productions, film editing and performance collaborations.
André has worked on projects across artistic mediums as a choreographer, media designer and consultant with artists such as Daniel Bernard Roumain, Cynthia Hopkins, Davalois Fearon, Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE, Arin Maya, Rags & Ribbons, The Clever Agency, Kendra Foster, and Spike Lee.
As a scholar, André has been a member of panels, led group talks, facilitated discussions and presented research on a myriad of topics including Afrofuturism, African Diaspora practices and philosophies, Black cultural aesthetics, technology in art and performance and on expanding the boundaries of art making within community. He has been a panelist and presented his research at institutions such as Duke University, Brooklyn College, University of Virginia and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Zachery has taught at Brooklyn College and been a guest faculty member at the dance programs of Florida State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, The Ohio State University and University of California Los Angeles.
(photo: Tara Lyn Pixely)
Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?
The project I am working on at the moment is not affected by the pandemic because I am still in the development phase and have already considered making a large portion of the work for film. This pandemic merely rectifies that decision as film and media are a part of my interdisciplinary practice. However, several teaching and residency opportunities that were to occur this summer such as American Dance Festival have been cancelled or postponed.
Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.
With dance I had no choice: my mother put me in dance when I was 4-years old! However, the decision to become an artist was made around age 18/19 while I was studying architecture at Florida A & M University but got a scholarship to attend Dance Theatre of Harlem in summer 2001. While taking classes that summer, I stayed in Fort Greene, Brooklyn when the neighborhood was filled with Black artists. I could literally walk along DeKalb Avenue and see some of the most influential Black artists of the day along my route, and I had never seen so many beautiful, intelligent and worldly persons in one area.
In these Brooklyn conversations, my background as being Haitian, my study of architecture and artistic pursuits of dance as a Black man actually furthered the dialogue unlike many instances where people would not know what to make of me. I was meeting Black artists talking about Fulbrights in Brazil, tours to Paris, collaborations in Nigeria. Over the period of that summer of 2001 in Brooklyn, I was hooked, and there was no turning back. I did one more year at FAMU then transferred to the Ailey/Fordham BFA program in 2002 and have been an artist in New York City ever since.
In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?
More specifically to my practice is the self-history I just mentioned. I am an interdisciplinary artist, and I identify with my cultural roots that extend across the African Diaspora in the Americas. My experiences studying architecture and technology, my being raised in the Black cultural enclave on the south side of Chicago, and my constant work ethic, my dance practice from my growing up with hip hop and house dancing to my studio training in classical ballet, classical modern and later contemporary forms, and finally an immersion into African Diaspora forms have made me what I am today. For some this may be a lot, but for me it is but a small experience of the complexity and beauty of shared experiences.
How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?
I care about fully humanizing and complicating stories of contemporary Black life across mediums. This includes movement invention, filmmaking, design and collaboration. I use history as an active partner in my practice to reconsider narratives, to illuminate forgotten and invisibilized moments, and to amplify muted voices.
My work has been influenced by choreographers such as Reggie Wilson, Okwui Okpowisili, Ralph Lemon and William Forsythe who I feel have stretched our possibilities of what performance can be and what the space can do. With my own work, I try to innovate with sincerity and lean into our emotions, reactions and feelings that ultimately make us human.
How does your practice function within the world we have now?
I am also a Gyrotonic® trainer and avid body conditioner through cross-training. So part of my function in the world is continuing to learn how to survive this crisis through healthy choices and then educating others on these best practices. My uncle (who is a trainer as well) had as his business motto: “Your health is your wealth.” In this moment in time there seems to be no greater truth. So my work is also getting people connected with their bodies online as much as through in-person sessions.
Also, we must also be honest of how the systems of inequity that operate in the world, and are exacerbating this crisis, came to form in the first place. As I stated earlier, my work actively engages history, and that includes understanding how these “systems” were constructed. I feel the arts and performance world, especially in the United States, loves to literally “dance” around these issues. Looking back, it happened in the 1980s and 1990s in the AIDS crisis and, yet, here we are again in another public health crisis where Black and Brown and immigrant persons are dying at a more rapid rate.
So within my work as an artist, my practice is first to give people the joy of moving the body which is a blessing. To experience being within the music and letting your body go. But to also embrace that our bodies and other bodies hold different and unique narratives inside them that tell the story of our time. How even through a virtual space (as something I asserted when I first started articulating my work through Afrofuturism) we can, and are still connected.
Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.
Create with your hands! I LOVE to cook and make repairs or building things. For me it is a cathartic release allowing me to unplug from the online world! I am able to talk with my partner, read and immerse myself into the world that is my own apartment. Even before this crisis, I gave continual thanks to the position I am in with my own place and the security it affords. So I treasure every moment in the real--making pancakes, fixing furniture, cleaning. I can go to sleep with an excited expectation for the next day!
DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.
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