Uptown Art House

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


Other college radio stations could learn a thing or two from WVAU and Maliyeah Grant by Maxwell Young

A lot of people come to D.C. and take what they can get out of it, without giving what they have to it.
— Maliyeah Grant, Senior, Events Director, WVAU, American University

As a transplant living in Washington, D.C. (by way of Pittsburgh, Pa.), I can attest to a foreigner’s urge to experience the cultural heritage of the city. For those who have never visited, it’s hard not to feel this compulsion if for nothing but the fact that most of these experiences are free. It’s like tasting your favorite sweet treat for the first time—the rush of energy, the colors, the sensory immersion—you’re insatiable. It’s a natural part of living in a new environment, wanting to interact with its people and communities.

“I guess everyone was trying to connect with D.C. culture,” said Maliyeah Grant at the Tenleytown Chick Fil A, a popular spot for her American University classmates, no doubt. The Senior from York, Pa. opened up about her gradual involvement in the District’s creative scene running parallel to (and at times intersecting) her collegiate radio career, with Nappy Nappa’s social media acting as her entry point. “ I started listening to him on SoundCloud and following local artists. We started going to events at Uptown Art House and talking to people who aren’t from AU.”

Maliyeah Grant (left) at WVAU’s prom in April 2018. Photos by Jason Brandon

Maliyeah Grant (left) at WVAU’s prom in April 2018. Photos by Jason Brandon

The Art House is actually where I first met Grant. Last spring, she rented the now defunct venue space for WVAU’s annual prom. Just a year following my own graduation, the early-twenty-somethings’ youthful energy was contagious and I became nostalgic of simpler times. I thought about the house parties and DIY shows Rob Stokes encouraged me to see my sophomore year, like MILF and $uicideboy$ on the same bill. I wished my friends and classmates were privy to those untapped worlds so that we could experience them together. Yet, there was Grant looking eerily similar to SZA in her “Love Galore” music video, amplifying that same spirit through her school. Rather than merely being a part of the vibe, this time she was curating it.

Such foundational experiences can have a compounding effect on someone who is eager to support the arts, especially someone like Grant who has university resources and money at her disposal.

“There’s a responsibility when you move somewhere that you’re not from to engage with the community in a positive way. A lot of people come to D.C. and take what they can get out of it, without giving what they have to it,” she said.

Although WVAU is a campus station, the internet network is committed to highlighting locally-based talent, whether that’s playing music on air waves or inviting artists to interviews. It’s about bridging the arts and academic communities to not only expose young people to identities and perspectives they might not have considered before, but also fostering future collaborations. The station’s early 2000s party, ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot,’ featured sounds from D.C.-based collective MXDHOUSE while Greenss is slated to offer an exclusive set at AU’s Batelle Atrium in support of Stephn, who is releasing his album Time Before Us with WVAU on February 22.

“Putting funding towards local artists. That’s a big way I like to connect the two [communities],” Grant said.

Other universities could take a page from American, WVAU & Maliyeah’s script. Of course, there are some who already align with this identity. Oberlin College brought a full blown mind-melt to Ohio, booking the Model Home combo of Nappy Nappa & Pat Cain along with Sir E.U and Rob Stokes in December. Treat the arts like any other community outreach program and bring culture to campus. It doesn’t have to be thousands of dollars spent bringing major artists to the quad. Local experiences are relevant to the student experience, plus, they inform the real estate you inhabit.

Photos by Jason Brandon

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.



‘Black Dove’ by Elijah Williamson, Perfectly Imperfect by Maxwell Young

Elijah WIlliamson stitches back ripped canvas of his “Aunt Jemima” portrait,  Black Dove.  Photographs by Ashley Llanes

Elijah WIlliamson stitches back ripped canvas of his “Aunt Jemima” portrait, Black Dove. Photographs by Ashley Llanes

What do you do when the oil portrait you’ve worked on for a year falls out of the back of a pickup truck, onto the highway, and rolled over by oncoming traffic?

For artist Elijah Williamson, that moment was just the beginning of a beautiful journey to his installation, Black Dove at Maps Glover’s exhibition, What We Leave Behind: In the Name of Arta six week endeavor that ended October 20 at Washington, D.C.’s Transformer Gallery.

Black Dove is a portrayal of “Aunt Jemima,” the matronly or mammy-figured black woman synonymous with thick, fluffy pancake batter and sugary syrup sold in any non-organic supermarket. 

“She,” as Williamson refers to his work, has an overwhelming pureness to her composition.  Jemima’s classic bonnet, usually plaid, is painted white while her brown face is bordered by more strokes of white, creating a stark contrast between light and dark.  The ear was a main focal point for the Corcoran College of Art and Design graduate.  In the decades that Aunt Jemima’s packaging has evolved, her ears have been omitted—stripped down perhaps for lack of necessity.  It’s as if  Williamson plucked this logo from his syrup bottle stashed in the cupboard and humanized “Aunt Jemima,” aggrandizing the black existences of Nancy Green & Anna Harrington whose likeness were manipulated by The Quaker Oats Company.

When you consider this exploitation—the allusion of Southern hospitality brought to you by the hot fixings of your loving ex-slave/negro cook—the rips, smudges, and tatters of the canvas, in a way, seem more fitting for a final piece than the clean, idyllic image Williamson had originally foreseen.

The commercial graphic designer spent the afternoon and evening of Glover’s final Saturday service in October stitching together the torn parts of canvas and re-stapling the composition back to a wooden frame.  It was ceremonious as bystanders helped to hold the frame in place.  During one moment, Williamson sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gon’ Come,” eliciting feelings of an antebellum period.

He reflected on this traumatic journey via email:

InTheRough: Working on a painting for a year takes a lot a of persistence. I find the endeavor interesting because I don't know you as a fine artist. I know you as a graphic designer. What was the impetus behind your undertaking?

Elijah WIlliamson: Yea it’s crazy, I’m actually a fine artist turned graphic designer. When I told one of my drawing instructors in college that I was a GD major, he responded,“I don’t know. I think you may be selling yourself short for a paycheck.” I’ve never forgotten that moment but now that I think about it, I’ve always found a way to marry the two.


For this piece however, it started as a response to my senior thesis project at the Corcoran College of Art and Design at George Washington University. I was investigating pieces of graphic design created during the Harlem Renaissance and was struck by the differences in how Black Americans were portrayed depending on the artist demographic.  I came across a number of stereotypes cast upon the African American community; the first was the “mammy” caricature. I began drawing sketches of Aunt Jemima and around that time, there was an ongoing lawsuit around royalties and proper compensation to the women who reportedly spearheading the morning and then it fed this brand. The story was all too familiar, yet ironic at the same time.  


Visually, it struck me that the representation of Aunt Jemima was never depicted with an ear. I also learned that the character was inspired by a song written by a black minstrel performer. These things coupled with other readings and conversations around Black women in America, I wanted to contribute something that attempted to fill the gaps created by negative stereotypes of black women. I also wanted to contribute to the commentary of costume. It was important for me to remove the headscarf. In so many ways it represented nothing of personal note. It was utility, almost costume. I wanted to challenge the visual perception of how we see “Aunt Jemima”, who for a long time, is how Black women are viewed in America.


It took a year to complete for a number of reasons, the main being my constant attempt to juggle a full schedule but mainly, I wanted to take my time. I was creating other Jemima pieces and I wanted the series to grow and express itself over time. Different portraits went in different directions and meant different things.

ITR: Walk me through the moments after your painting fell out of the truck. How do you rebound from that experience?

EW: Ah.. wow. I had a buddy of mine help me transport it from my place in Virginia to the Gallery. I was constantly turning my head to make sure things were good. One moment it was there, the next it was gone. We pulled over and I immediately took off running back up the shoulder of 395 against traffic. I ran maybe a quarter mile before I saw the piece on the ground, off the stretcher, being ran over by traffic. I remember hearing the wood rolling against the asphalt as it was hit by the rubber of rolling tires and the crashing of vehicles against the canvas. I screamed, “No!”. I was waving my hands trying to stop the traffic until I was able to retrieve the canvas as the cars responded to my hysterics on the side of the highway. After I quickly gathered the remains of what was left of my piece, I headed back up 395 to find the truck. I remember taking a breath on the guard rails on the side of the road and thinking, “What The Fuck!?”

It really was the support and encouragement of my close friends who, in a way, carried me through that experience. I was in a state of shock for some time and really didn’t want to discuss the incident. There were a number of other factors going on that weren’t exactly encouraging. My name was omitted from the list of artist on the first set of postcards for the show, and Maps Glover, my best friend and curator of the show, had been having concerns about whether the exhibition was the right show for this piece. Needless to say, I wanted to drop out of the show. I was pretty shook. A lot of emotions were at blows with each other; shock, anger, pain, wasted time, shame, embarrassment - it was rough. We didn’t know how it was going to work, but I had already been compensated and made the commitment. It was a horrible situation to be in. But we pressed on. The opening was that weekend and it was a hit. My performance wasn’t scheduled for another six weeks. I don’t think I was able to really move pass the fall until the day of my performance. It was still fresh - for me - up until that day.

ITR: How did you arrive at the idea for your performance, which closed out Transformer Gallery?


EW: That performance was about as organic as it gets. I knew I wanted it to be interactive and I wanted to engage the audience. Outside of that it was just about telling the story in a way that was as complete and authentic as necessary. It wasn’t lost on me that this “feminist attempt to present a whole image of black woman” was being lead by a black man. In an effort to subdue myself in light of the content, I chose to have excerpts from the artist statement read aloud by the participants of the show.

Visitors at Transformer Gallery helped Williamson reframe his painting. Photograph by Ashley Llanes

Visitors at Transformer Gallery helped Williamson reframe his painting. Photograph by Ashley Llanes

These excerpts were taken from the Combahee River Collective Statement. A document written by a group of black feminist and lesbians responsible for one of the first introductions of intersectionality into political and social conversations. The name, ‘The Combahee River Collective’, refers to the Combahee River Raid - an expedition of 150 Union Troops lead by Harriet Tubman. The raid lead to the destruction of several South Carolina Estates and plantations. Harriett Tubman is the only woman known to have led a military operation during the American Civil War.

ITR: What songs were you singing? I was eating, so I only heard. Your portrait and your voice transported me back to slave times, especially looking at the images Ashley caught of you sewing it back together. It truly was a spiritual moment. Jemima plays this mammy role and to be canonized in an iconic brand image is very much exploitative.

EW: Yes it is. And the act of revealing that kind of exploitation was what I was trying to execute; exposing this disenfranchisement towards Black Americans, specifically, Black American women—and that does date back to slavery.

The song I sang was ‘A Change Gon’ Come’ by Sam Cooke. It had been with me for a few days that week and it just made sense to perform it. The lyrics really captured a part of what I was trying to say in relation to the subject matter.


ITR: Watching you perform all of these exercises around the portrait: sewing it together, framing it, and celebrating it--the whole experience seems like that's how it was supposed to happen. How do you feel removed the experience?

EW: It’s still pretty surreal. From like the fall to the stretching. I do find a lot of symbolism in the different phases she [the painting] went through. I don’t know if it was ‘supposed’ to happen like that (laugh). But I do believe what happened happened for a reason. I’ve definitely learned a lot from the experience as a whole. I’m extremely grateful, man. It was quite the journey but I’m glad I stuck through it.

ITR: What’s next?

EW: Right now I’m getting settled in DC. Moving in the district will be a big move for me. I’m still painting.  I want to get through this series.

Uptown Art House Debuts Converge Series with U Street Music Hall by Maxwell Young

Uptown Art House’s fall programming with U Street Music Hall. Graphic design by  St. Clair Castro  of Open Source.

Uptown Art House’s fall programming with U Street Music Hall. Graphic design by St. Clair Castro of Open Source.

Following the exodus from their studio space in Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C., Uptown Art House has focused their attention on collaborating with storied institutions within the local community—creating without borders. In partnership with U Street Music Hall, one of the District’s premiere concert venues (GoldLink recently sold out three nights here), the Art House presents Converge, fall programming on Wednesday nights from 10pm until 2am.

“Gentrification” is one of those buzz words used frequently amongst the creative ecosystem in D.C. due to the displacement of studio space, DIY venues, and residences the phenomenon causes. There’s more on that in this Washington City Paper article featuring Uptown Art House. The reality is the artistic identity is changing in the nation’s capital. Punk, Go-go, and funk communities that defined a predominantly African American city in the mid to late 20th century have been stripped out and re-built as indie-rock, moombahton, and trip-hop communities that represent an evolving white, young professional population. Through the intersection of experimental sound, media, and movement, Converge aims to bridge these gaps between music, art, and society. Burgeoning pockets of D.C.’s music community will be on display as the Art House taps local collectives and DJs to curate specific nights. Below is a highlight of the first three curators of Converge.

September 26 - DJs Underdog & Native Sun

Converge debuts this Wednesday with DJs Underdog and Native Sun. Expect a fusion of global sounds from the D.C.-based disc jockeys, as they have both played for prominent festivals such as Afro Punk. Underdog is a graphic designer for National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institute, and OKAYAFRICA, an editorial website amplifying African culture. Underdog’s sets delve in futurism and play with modern aesthetics without conformity, while Native Sun is known as a melodic archivist, exploring the connections between mainstream and underground cultures.

October 10 - Last Niight

InTheRough first learned of the Last Niight collective during one of their DJ sets at Funk Parade 2017. Roll forward a year and a half later and the DMV collective is hosting their first squad show on October 10th. Comprised of DJs and emcees Koleco, Murjoni, TheAntiSocial, MFundishi, Frankliin, JustJuWit, and Martin J Ballou, Last Niight will convey a full sonic spectrum.

October 17 - UUV Adrenaline Tour

UUV might be most visible as a clothing brand, but its creative direction by Lordy Agency is heavily intertwined with the documentation and elevation of music. Whether it’s D.C.’s rich skateboarding or Go-go communities, founder Naeem Khaliq’s influences behind his Converge curation are rooted in adrenaline culture. Performances by El Cousteau, Ankhle John, Landlord Sho, Mista Selecta, and Lul Bro Bro will amplify the intrinsic energy that surrounds the streets of Washington, D.C.

U Street Music Hall

1115A U ST, NW

Washington, D.C. 20009