The Renaissance is Now
“We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.” The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, Langston Hughes
I believe that history is cyclical. Like the Harlem Renaissance – which emerged out of the darkness of an authoritarian leadership regime, a major migration that dramatically impacted the demographics of who we are as America, and a global health pandemic – this moment in time again stands as a turning point for a new revival of artistic, creative, and innovative expression that has been inspired by the truths exposed in the wake of our current pandemics.
For the past few months, I have been inspired and motivated by the work and words of critically acclaimed dramaturg, director, historian and Apollo New Works artist Talvin Wilks, who shared:
Does a movement exist if there is no one to write about it, to document it, to claim it? The genius of Alain Locke and W.E.B. Du Bois and the impact of Crisis Magazine and Opportunity curated one of the greatest foundations of beauty, art, and propaganda. Let us remind ourselves that the anti-Black machinery in this nation was profound – restrictions on voting to the defense of lynchings – all happening at the same time as the Harlem Renaissance. It is against this backdrop that the Harlem Renaissance rises and flourishes, forged by the firebrand of Marcus Garvey, infused by the spirituality of Father Divine, instigated by the marching syncopation of Major James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters Band (369th Infantry Regiment), the beat of the Tom Tom, the Blues of Bessie Smith, Swing at the Savoy, The Duke at the Cotton Club, and the voices of Ida B. Wells and the anti-lynching movement.
What we learn from the Harlem Renaissance is that revolution has to be curated, it doesn’t just happen. It is conjured, believed, doubted, debated. It is established and elusive. As we mark nearly 100 years since the start of this historic era, we know that without it the very foundation upon which we stand would be sinking sand. The Harlem Renaissance serves as a significant moment of collective witnessing, collective contemplation, and collective action holding firm the tradition of celebrating Blackness. It is an essential anchorage, an essential movement in a long lineage of many movements, setting the stage for the Black Arts Movement, the Hip Hop Movement, and the Afrofuturistic movement. We hold this era in the highest esteem, in all of its contradictions and triumphs.
Thank you, Talvin, for those deep and powerful words and connections that I hope resonate with you as much as they resonated with me.
And so, it is at this intersection of artistry and activism that the Apollo responds with a season of signature programs, audience favorites, and a preview of the first of a series of commissioned projects and new works by artists who are pushing the boundaries of their artforms while expanding the cannon of African American works. We embrace the notion of our duty as artists, to lead, to reflect, and to respond. As much as this is a motion of growth and resurgence, it is also a moment of healing and reflection. After 19 months of physical and emotional isolation, it is artists who will lead the way – a path to begin to feel again with the fullness of our unspoken humanity.
As we continue to welcome you back to the theater or engage with us digitally, we believe we are entering a new renaissance – an era that will propel the next century with extraordinary breath of cultural creativity. That is why we are thrilled to launch our fall season, “The Renaissance is Now,” which serves as a reminder that the Apollo has long been a hub of Black creativity, expression, and artistry and continues to be a trailblazer as we reimagine our future in pushing the culture forward and beyond.
– Kamilah Forbes
Artistic Statement Archive
- February 2020