Artists as Historians: A Dialogue on Art, History, and Collaboration

AHA Session 28
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Stevens C-4 (Hilton Chicago, Lower Level)
Aaron Landsman, Princeton University
The Trenton Project
Alison E. Isenberg, Princeton University; Purcell Carson, Princeton University
Musical Passage: Sounding History
Mary Caton Lingold, Virginia Commonwealth University; Laurent M. Dubois, Duke University
Dance as History
Julia Foulkes, The New School
Art as History/History as Art
Ada Ferrer, New York University
The Audience

Session Abstract

This session explores the relevance of historical scholarship in the contemporary arts by focusing on four unique collaborations between historians and artists working in performance, dance, music, visual arts, and film. In “Dance as History, dancer/choreographer Netta Yerushalmy and historian Julia Foulkes discuss their collaborative project Paramodernities, a hybrid event that is performance, academic conference, and town-hall gathering. It features the deconstruction of the movement of landmarks of dance modernism alongside original text spoken by a scholar on stage. Historian Alison Isenberg and filmmaker Purcell Carson discuss “The Trenton Project,” a documentary film and book project that focuses on the life and death of Harlan “Bruce” Joseph, a black college student who was fatally shot by a white police officer during the unrest in that city following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In “Musical Passages,” Laurent Dubois and Mary Caton Lingold discuss a collaborative project with musical theorists, composers, and musicians that offers contemporary interpretations of seventeenth-century songs from Jamaica. In Art as History, Ada Ferrer [and one of fourteen artists] discuss “Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom,” a project in which contemporary artists, using original judicial testimony from early nineteenth-century Havana and Ferrer’s scholarship reimagine a lost “Book of Paintings” that served as a recruitment tool for an antislavery movement.

The projects will be presented jointly (and briefly) by each pair of collaborators. The moderator, Aaron Landesman, will engage each pair in a discussion of the relationship between historical scholarship and artistic creation particular to each collaboration, and then open up to the floor for discussion.

Our hope is that the dialogues about these projects will speak to relevance (and urgency) of history for artists in the present, as well as the relevance (and urgency) of art for historians working on ways to mitigate the violence of colonial (or other) archives and to glimpse something of the imagination of historical actors. Broadly, we insist on the ways in which placing artistic interpretation and historical interpretation in dialogue with one another offers new openings and ways of thinking about the past. More than that, the collaborations presented here nudge us to think of the past not just as sacred treasure but perhaps also as foundation for a more courageous, and creative, future.

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