Jamal Gray

Ever Vigilant, Uptown Art House Curates A Weekend of Music by Maxwell Young

On Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1, let your pursuit of pleasure lead you to “Neighborhood Watch,” Uptown Art House’s two-day curation of music performances at artist Joseph Orzal’s exhibition Hedonist Buddhist.

Flyers by inimitable  Globe Collection and Press at MICA

Located at The Shay, a new, boutique condominium development in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C., embodying the hyper consumptive landscape that’s transforming the city into culturally divided spaces, Hedonist Buddhist subverts the gentrification process. The local community holds sentimental value to Orzal who’s grown up in D.C. and experienced the pressure of rising rent prices and removal of developmental ecosystems. As Martha’s Table, a prominent non-profit promoting access to high-quality education, healthy food, and family support moved further away from its 14th St. roots, it was Orzal who shared childhood photos of Barbara Bush doting on him and other pre-schoolers at the kiddy table. Decades later—now a bourgeoning printmaker—he frustratingly spoke to the Washington City Paper of losing his atelier, Open Studio D.C., to developers’ more commercial interests.

Collaborating with Washington Project for the Arts, Orzal is confronting such social dynamics in the heart of the battle being waged between the transplants and the natives. The exhibition space full of art and literature, amplifying political activism and awareness of civic manipulation, is directly below the resident who complained about the noise level of go-go music being played at the nearby Metro PCS store. Perhaps you’ve seen or participated in the public outcry of this intolerance through the massive #MOECHELLA/#DONTMUTEDC protests, trending on Instagram and Twitter.

Orzal has enlisted a number of compatriots to elevate his exhibition in the name of D.C.’s artistic heritage, and this weekend, Uptown Art House will offer an array of music performances that remain vigilant to the city’s underrepresented creative communities.

This Friday features sound selections by P0STB1NARY, a collective of DJ’s and vocalists spearheading the non-binary movement of gender and genre through heavy techno and house sets. If you haven’t caught them at Studio Ga Ga or The Line Hotel, this is the night to do so. InTheRough will also be present through an ethnographic lens, sharing Polaroids and music that inform the District’s contemporary cultural scene.

Saturday is a strong showing of the city’s esoteric rap community. In his latest project, Tribe Ties, Thraxx King harnesses a cadence and spiritual energy that resides in occultist teachings. Jamal Gray as Black Noise Filter—the eponymous name to a long-awaited sound collage—recontextualizes his family lineage of music and impact in Chocolate City, meditating on social and universal constructs. And Sir E.U, the great, with The First Church of Back, debuts a live rendition of his most recent collection of songs, REDHELLY/Twin Towers, complete with a post-grunge aesthetic. Let’s rage.

Neighborhood Watch

Friday, May 31 & Saturday, June 1

1921 8th St, NW

8-12am


Transformer Auction Party - “Wherefore Art Thou, Olympus?” by Maxwell Young

Silhouettes of Ashley Shey (left) and Yacine Fall (right) during performance piece “Wherefore art thou, Olympus?” by Maps Glover at the 15th annual Transformer Auction Party. Photograph by Maxwell Young

Silhouettes of Ashley Shey (left) and Yacine Fall (right) during performance piece “Wherefore art thou, Olympus?” by Maps Glover at the 15th annual Transformer Auction Party. Photograph by Maxwell Young

Since mid-September, Maps Glover and Uptown Art House have been curating programs and experiences in conjunction with Transformer Gallery, a non-profit art studio in Logan Circle amplifying the work of burgeoning artists around the Washington, D.C. creative ecosystem. What began as a six-week exhibition dubbed What We Leave Behind: In the Name of Art, culminated in a final performance during Transformer’s 15th annual auction party on Saturday night.

"Wherefore art thou, Olympus?” was an exploratory piece considering the spectrum of value civilization has placed on black bodies and images. More specifically, “It was about reaching for an idealized sense of acceptance from white society,” said Jamal Gray, who was a part of the performing troupe.

Glover and Gray along with Yacine Fall, Ra Nubi, Ashley Shey, Sifu Sun, and Hipster Woods were clad in dark tunics and skirts, enshrouded by masks and headdresses made of metal wire. Fastened to a chain that ascended the temple-like steps of George Washington University’s Corcoran School of Art, the sextet moved up and down the grand staircase in tandem with one another, striking poses, tying one another up, and manipulating the chain with their bodies. It was a stark contrast to a predominantly white audience in a predominantly white space raising questions of what this performance was about.

Figuratively, this group of artists who debuted together in Uptown Art House’s audiovisual experience at The Kennedy Center last March, The Landing, transformed themselves into “black deities,” Glover explained, recounting his performance. Coupled with the neoclassical architecture of the Corcoran building, the piece alluded to the idea of white acceptance mentioned by Gray because of the white connotations associated with western mythology. Gods and goddesses represent the epitome of social constructs like beauty, power, and knowledge that black people have been historically disenfranchised from, whether through slavery, racism, or the erasure from history. It’s as if the masks and chains worn by the troupe symbolized the conformity and constraining that happens to black bodies as they navigate this white, western world.

“We can’t exist in this paradigm of America and not address it,” Gray said.

Oscar Cole pictured far right and members of Millennium Arts Salon. Polaroids by Maxwell Young

Oscar Cole pictured far right and members of Millennium Arts Salon. Polaroids by Maxwell Young

Oscar Cole, however, pictured on the far right, had a different perspective of the performance he witnessed at the auction party, telling me disapprovingly, “We must be aware of the images we project.”

Cole, who was sitting with several elder African American members of the Millennium Arts Salon, an organization promoting cultural literacy through art programming, was generations removed from the freedom of expression that he saw Saturday night. Born in 1943 in North Carolina, Cole fought for racial equality, participating in sit-ins. Cole is also an alumnus of Howard University and he also holds a PHD in psychology from the University of Michigan. He could not remove “Wherefore art thou, Olympus?” from his personal context in America—one of long-term resistance to oppression. He saw the six black bodies on the steps and he saw the chains they were bounded by and he was reminded of slavery, a topic in 1943 that could have close ties to his ancestral history. And in 2018 with President Trump condoning images of prejudice, Cole saw an insensitivity to the current times and intolerance minorities experience.

“We’re all slaves to something,” Ra Nubi told me after I shared with her Oscar’s story. “The idea of being a black woman, there’s a type of inescapable truth to what it is to be here and experience this black body. Just because I was born into this doesn’t necessarily mean that I claim it as my identity. However, showing these images is also reiterating a structure that people want to pacify. It’s like, ‘No, we can’t see this because it’s too painful.’ We triggered a sense of trauma in him. And I can understand why he believes that we shouldn’t, but it’s to make him feel comfortable and safe.”

But can black people make art that is devoid from racial context?

“To control the narrative fully, we have to know about the lighting, we have to know about the music, and we have to know about the entrance…” Gray finished.

Stay tuned to InTheRough for more developments on Uptown Art House’s theatrical productions headed into 2019.



The Landing: an Audio Visual Experience by Maxwell Young

Mr. Wisdom AKA The Oracle practices his soliloquy. Photographs by Russ R. 

Mr. Wisdom AKA The Oracle practices his soliloquy. Photographs by Russ R. 

More like a crash landing because what Uptown Art House presents at the Kennedy Center this Thursday, The Landing, is more than an audio-visual exploration, but an exposé on who has been pushing the arts community in Washington, D.C. over the last several years. 

Flyer designed by  Richard Mijangos .

Flyer designed by Richard Mijangos.

Jamal Gray, the master curator of Uptown Art House brings together an experienced group of creators across the entire spectrum of the local arts ecosystem.  Featured players Maps Glover, Maya Sun, Mr. Wisdom, Ashley Shey, Ra Nubi, and Yacine Fall have been driving the performance art scene in the city, at times collaborating together in public and private exhibitions.  They are joined by Nag Champa Art Ensemble who is no stranger to playing in hallmark institutions like the Kennedy Center, producer/writer extraordinaire Britt Sankofa, wardrobe designer Afrovelvet, and the man behind the far-out psychedelic visual projections you will see during the production--Jimmy Keith.  Individually these artists have strong movements in their various disciplines.  Those hip to the scene would have experienced their work at venues such as Capital Fring, Black Cat D.C., The Philips Collection, Torpedo Factory or at DIY venues including The Bee Hive, Rhizome, and Uptown Art House.  But together as a troupe, they create a chilling, impactful piece that conveys the power of the arts culture in Washington, D.C.

The Landing is inspired by the 1984 science-fiction film Brother from Another Planet, the philosophies of Sun Ra, and the literature of Octavia Butler, though it is a completely original work.  Lyer (played by Maps Glover), an alien from the planet Sept, arrives on Earth searching for his companion Layan (played by Maya Sun) while experiencing foreign stimulants for the first time.  It is narrated by The Oracle, Mr. Wisdom, who offers a range of thoughts suggesting this intergalactic adventure is pre-ordained by a higher power.

Planning for this hour-long performance began in December.  Having watching several rehearsals, it is a reactionary piece.  Spectators are encouraged to participate, and during some of The Oracle's soliloquies, you'll think his words pertain to you--perhaps they do.  But beyond the improvisation that occurs, the players are feeding off one another's energy and movement.  Its been a resounding sentiment amongst the artists that what happens on stage is a visceral response to how they make each other feel in those moments.  As individuals, they are both actively experiencing the performance and the expressions of their peers, inspiring a totally new understanding of the theatrical piece.

"There's this interesting dichotomy when you are trying to portray this experience or emotion within your movement or gestures alongside other people who are also having this internal experience," said Glover.  "What makes it rich is when you can be inspired by peoples' movement at the same time.  Everyone is going through these internal experiences whether it be them exploring their characters through words or how they're articulating their ideas.”

The Landing: an Audio Visual Experience debuts at the John F. Kennedy Center Millennium Stage on Thursday, March 15 at 6pm.  The event is free.

Stop by Uptown Art House following the show for the after party.

Kennedy Center Millennium Stage

2700 F St. NW

Washington, D.C.

DIY Arts Scene, Uptown Art House on NPR's Kojo Nnamdi Show by Maxwell Young

Uptown Art House founder Jamal Gray joins The Kojo Nnamdi Show. 

Photograph by Mark Williams Hoelscher

Photograph by Mark Williams Hoelscher

In the arts community, DIY ('Do-It-Yourself') spaces are integral to the prosperity of the artists and sustainability of the collective conscious. Homes, warehouses, breweries and repurposed restaurants along with their dedicated collectives support the advancement of creatives and organizations in the spheres of activism, art, and music.  These aren’t new refuges.  There was Club 57 in New York City--a haven for Keith Haring and other starving underground artists.  And we can't forget about Warhol's Factory either; the scene was just higher profile given the benefactor. These cultural hubs where people appreciate art and music, uninhibited by society’s parameters are alternatives to the traditional gallery spaces and concert halls where consumerism, popular/mainstream culture, and big business take precedent.

On Tuesday, musician Janel Leppin, Arts Editor of the Washington City Paper Matt Cohen, and Jamal Gray, founder of Uptown Art House joined The Kojo Nnamdi Show on NPR to discuss the DIY arts scene in Washington, D.C.

The independent arts scene in the nation’s capital has been nurtured by DIY venues including Rhizome, Paperhaus, Electric Maid--a legendary punk rock venue--Uptown Art House, and many others.  The problem due to gentrification and rising rent prices, though is that these venues struggle to stay open for a sustained period of time.  You may have heard of, or better yet, been to Art Under Pressure, Bohemian Caverns or Union Arts where District culture flourished.  Unfortunately, however, these historic landmarks no longer exist--extinguished for swanky redevelopment projects.

Listen to the perspectives of Janel, Matt, and Jamal as they speak with Kojo about the impact of the DIY community preserving Washington's heritage, and how it’s changing nationally.


Hot Takes

+  "Art spaces reflect whatever we're going through at the time." -Jamal Gray

+ "Money is speaking louder than art in D.C." -Matt Cohen

+ "DIY is about cultivating and incubating artists to be able to take their work to the next level." -Jamal Gray

+ "If we could have some sort of rent stabilization, so we could have a place that stays put for more than five years..." -Janel Leppin

 

Cool Things Happening in D.C.- Halloweekend by Maxwell Young

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Do you have Halloweekend plans in the District?

Although trick-or-treating down Embassy Row is an experience every D.C. transplant should have, here's a list of alternative events occurring over the next several days.

1. October 26- RAYGUNOMICS & Emotio

Jamal Gray (middle) and Dajando Smith (right) at Funk Parade 2017. Photograph by Maxwell Young

Jamal Gray (middle) and Dajando Smith (right) at Funk Parade 2017. Photograph by Maxwell Young

Kwesi Lee of Emotio.

Kwesi Lee of Emotio.

Jamal Gray, Kwesi Lee, and Dajando Smith are members of Washington, D.C.'s premiere rock-fusion band Nag Champa.  On Thursday, they will be performing as RAYGUNOMICS--an intergalactic parade of futuristic hip hop, funk, jazz, and go-go sounds.

Kwesi Lee, the guitarist from Nag Champa, will also be playing with a "vegan space metal" band from Maryland known as Emotio.

Dew Drop Inn

2801 8th St, NE

$5 | 8pm

2. October 26- Ace Cosgrove & Bob Moe Kill & Hardwork Movement

Ace Cosgrove has been busy performing his latest project Ms. Claire's Basement with experimental jazz group, BADBADNOTGOOD.  He returns to the District on Thursday to play a set at the hip Velvet Lounge with Bob Moe Kill and Philadelphia's Hardwork Movement. 

Velvet Lounge

915 U St, NW

$15 | 8:30pm

3. October 27- ROUGH

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We got action at The Factory. #debutparty #DMV

A post shared by InTheRough (@intheroughstyle) on

It wouldn't be Halloweekend without a keg and bottomless drinks right? 

'Rough' is InTheRough's debut event.  It is a mixed media music and art show celebrating the youth movement in D.C. and its creative communities.  Friday night's show includes visual contributions from artist Quaishawn Whitlock while Tedy Brewski, Sir E.U, and Rob Smokes are among the musical stylings for the night.  Bring your dancing shoes.

Uptown Art House

3412 Connecticut Ave, NW

$10 drink ticket | 7pm

4. October 28- Mr. Daywalker

Mr. Daywalker photgraphed by Maxwell Young

Mr. Daywalker photgraphed by Maxwell Young

Mr. Daywalker, AKA percussion's free spirit, will be performing new music at the Love + Solidarity Collective this Saturday.  Go and see what the quirkiness is all about.

Love + Solidarity Collective

439 Park Road, NW

Free | 9pm

5. October 28- Enter the Void

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House of MXD is taking over the Art House this Saturday for their artist showcase "Enter the Void."  Artists like Dawn Musa, Kleonaptra, and St. Clair Castro will be setting the vibes.  Costumes are encouraged!

Uptown Art House

3412 Connecticut Ave, NW

$5 | 3-6pm