Nkechi and I went to Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s red, black & GREEN: a blues (rbGb) at the Walker last Saturday, and we both walked away pretty stunned. The piece opens with an interactive element where the audience walks onstage while the set is assembled and reassembled as the four performers mingle among the crowd. At one point, Joseph cut a watermelon and squeezed lemon juice on it, and we tried to get closer to smell it. Surprisingly, we were handed a slice and able to eat it while watching, taking our participation to an even more visceral place.
rbGb as a performance explores the challenges and victories of connecting urban America and multicultural America to the green movement, including “the challenge of living green where violent crime and poor education pose a more imminent danger than ecological crisis,” according to Joseph. You can hear more from the artist in the full interview I conducted.
The piece took us through the journey of Joseph’s national work with the LIFE is LIVING Festival: A Tribute to Green Living project. Drawing together several political issues at the nucleus of progressive culture– environmental justice, the lives and communities of under-resourced people and people of color (what Joseph calls “urban America” and “multicultural America”), Joseph is a natural genius at combining art, politics, public space, and community into one performance.
The piece opened with the lament of a mother whose son was tragically gunned down by a stray bullet, which was an anecdote from on of the LIFE is LIVING experiences. And for me, it was difficult not to connect this to the recent tragedy of Trayvon Martin in Florida. The 17-year-old, African-American youth was carrying only a bag of skittles he had just bought at the convenience store when he was inexplicably shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman. If you are unare of this cuurent event, there is no rational explanation for why Martin was shot, and the neighborhood watch captain is not being prosecuted. There is currently a change.org petition you can sign to pressure the Florida’s 18th District State’s attorney to investigate the murder and prosecute George Zimmerman.
I guess for me, rbGb reminded me of the potential for art to be connected to real life. The potential for art to be involved in discussions that led to actions that change peoples’ lives. We began out of our seats, on the set. Our position as passive audience members was challenged from the start. In that way, it was art that feeds back into life; it didn’t stay still and it asked me to think harder, make new connections, and question states of mind I had held previously.
You can catch rbGb next month in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art: April 12-14.
by Jesse Leaneagh