Last April, painter Lisette Morel (SASN ’98) had a vision: to bring together female visual artists of color who also use performance as a vehicle of expression to engage the public in a space outside strictly academic or art institutions.
She made that vision a reality on Friday evening when she joined forces with New York–based artists Mary Valverde and Ayana Evans, along with Newark artist Dominque Duroseau, to stage “Females Occupying Space” in Express Newark and other parts of the old Hahne’s Building.
“The goal was to create a platform that I feel is missing, where female artists can occupy different parts of a space to tell their stories simultaneously,” says Morel. “For women of color, these platforms are limited. So, I created one myself.”
The program, supported in part by a 2018 Third Space Grant from Express Newark, ran about 90 minutes and included a Q&A with the artists in the Express Newark Lecture hall after their performances.
Valverde, a Queens-based Latina sculptor and painter specializing in site-installation pieces focusing on memory, ritual, culture and adornment, sat in Express Newark’s Robeson Gallery, clad in a yellow dress–over–pants and combat boots, and recited personal stories she’d penned, interspersed with song lyrics and poetry.
Evans, who is based in New York City, uses performance as public intervention to explore how the black body is perceived and treated as it operates in artistic and social spheres. Dressed in a green and black catsuit, she played video loops of herself making facial expressions on a screen as she performed body-endurance pieces, including crawling down the staircase and walking with a chair held above her head, to depict what it means to persevere as a black woman in America.
The goal was to create a platform that I feel is missing, where female artists can occupy different parts of a space to tell their stories simultaneously.
A Haitian-American sculptor, painter, photographer and performance artist based in Newark, Duroseau uses these mediums to highlight black female identity, slave history and the conflicts between the U.S. and its slave past, and how it’s prevalent today. In the Express Newark lobby, she performed a piece titled “Negro Quota: Patches Construct,” part of a series about mapping and diagraming diversity that involved call-and-response chants with her audience and collective sewing of black thread onto her white dress with 12-inch needles.
Morel is a Dominican-American abstract painter based in Newark who often collaborates with her viewers by inviting them to contribute to large-scale pieces. Sporting a blue dress, she made her way down the Hahne’s Building’s grand staircase and walked around the atrium with a suitcase, unpacking it to pull out an old boombox before playing a mixtape of merengue and dancing, then inviting the audience to dance with her.
Their simultaneous performances, which kicked off at 6:30pm, lasted about 30 minutes. According to Morel, some passers-by were stunned and bewildered as they walked through the building. Others went about their business, working on their laptops or eating. Still others took note or stopped as they passed through on their way home from work. Some watched from afar, while many became curious and participated.
“That was what we’d hoped for: to disrupt the space, which is designed for a particular reason. But we wanted to bring what the art world considers high art and make it part of everyone’s life, not for it to be separated,” says Morel. “We wanted people to be involved, and they were. We had many nice exchanges with the various audiences.”
Above Photo (L-R): Artists Dominique Duroseau, Ayana Evans, Lisette Morel and Mary Valverde