Autumn art offerings
Characterized by falling leaves and baskets full of food, autumn is at once symbolic of harvest and abundance, and at the same time, a symbol of decay and death.
The vibrant lineup of the arts calendar before us shows Charleston artists are, like the fall season, handling great nuance.
Theater productions like the Charleston Gaillard Center’s Finding Freedom will provide an intimate look into the humanity of a hero, while visual art offerings like La Vaughn Belle’s When the Land Meets the Body at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art reckon with colonization and its effects on both an individual and collective scale.
Though there isn’t room here for all the exciting offerings of our region’s bustling art scene, consider checking these out especially.
The Gaillard’s debut of its first in-house produced theatrical work, Finding Freedom: The Journey of Robert Smalls, is perhaps one of the most highly anticipated items on this list.
Finding Freedom tells the 19th-century story of Robert Smalls, a South Carolinian born into slavery who engineered a daring sea escape during the Civil War and spent the rest of his life — including five terms serving in the U.S. House of Representatives — working for equality in the post-Civil War South.
The play, which premieres Oct. 6, is written by Teralyn Reiter with musical direction by Grammy Award-winning Charleston artist Charlton Singleton. Director JaMeeka Holloway told the Charleston City Paper that the production’s creative team, who are mostly Black and mostly Southern, have authenticated this work with the Southern-lived experience.
“To work with this team, it’s incredible, and it makes my job so much easier,” Holloway said. “Through Charlton’s guidance, for example, we’ve incorporated these Gullah traditionals throughout the play that I think will be very evocative. He’s really helping us find the musical voice to this world.”
Though one of the biggest initiatives of the Gaillard’s production is to educate audiences on Smalls’ spectacular story (especially the estimated 25,000 students it reaches annually through its educational programming), Holloway said, “this is also going to be a celebration of Black excellence and Black culture and Gullah culture.
“We want to offer Black audience members the opportunity to see themselves in all of it, in the glory and humanity. He had these moments of great fear, and yet he persisted. It’s so important to me that you can see that — that people can take that away, especially the students,” she said.
The play will also “creatively contextualize” Smalls’ story, with his mother and wife playing larger roles than they do in the history books, Holloway said.
“We give his mother a larger role than what he’s been given in history, his wife more agency in the story to have to actually have a part of his plan, his decision-making. She’s a co-conspirator in a lot of ways. We take their roles in history a little bit further with creative liberty.”
Holloway said she hopes the production will break and warm hearts in one swoop.
“This production will encapsulate a large spectrum of feelings and emotions, the peaks and valleys, because we know that it’s not all good. It shows the humanity of the hero.”
Tackling tough themes
Queer-led theater company The Void wraps up its first season at Silver Hill Studios with a Sept. 20-23 show called Golden Gate. As you might expect if you’ve seen a past show by the company, this production will be no exception to the company’s rule of intimate shows that tackle subversive material.
The play follows Beth, suddenly widowed in her 50s, standing on the Golden Gate Bridge from which she’s decided she will jump. Her plan is foiled by two good Samaritans, Izzie, a rambunctious young backpacker, and Elle, a reluctantly single 30-year-old professional.
The show is a world premiere by emerging playwright Lindsey Kirchoff and is led by a cast and crew of female and non-binary artists. Golden Gate, said The Void’s director, Shannon Vogt, is a play about where we go when we’ve reached the end of the line — and all of the chapters that we experience along the way.
“This play immediately grabs you,” Vogt said. “There is no warming up. It’s just boom — here we are. This is going to be heavy. But it’s also really funny and heartwarming. It covers, obviously, mental health, but what really struck a chord with me is the different chapters that we have in our lives, and how you are a different person in different places in your life, and how that’s okay.”
Visual art from diasporic experience
La Vaughn Belle is an artist from the U.S. Virgin Islands who uses a variety of media in “unbecoming a colonial being,” according to her artist statement.
Belle presents an exhibition at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, When the Land Meets the Body, open through Dec. 9. The exhibition explores the relationship of history, land and the bodies between them.
“It’s about encounters with multiple horizons and turbulent histories and what oozes from the swamps and the dirt,” Belle told the City Paper. “There are maps that look like bodies and bodies that look like maps. There is beauty and violence and sadness and joy in cut, torn and burnt paper, and digital collages and a lyric video that draws from the idea that it’s not just the people that do the insurrection — maybe the land does too.”
Director Katie Hirsch said the Halsey is proud to support Belle’s first solo museum exhibition.
“What’s particularly exciting about this is that there is something for everyone: collage, painting, digital work, photographic interventions, video. There are so many avenues that visitors can use to reflect on the questions La Vaughn asks,” Hirsch said.
“In Effluvia, the video work commissioned by the Halsey for this exhibition, she does this through a lyrical unraveling of the narratives on marshland surrounding Charleston,” Hirsch continued. “Using her body and voice as a tool, La Vaughn reflects on the unnatural marsh topographies that were transformed by enslaved Africans and African Americans through rice cultivation.”
There’s a lineup of events surrounding the exhibition, including an Oct. 5 poetry reading with the poet laureate of Charleston, Asiah Mae.
Narrowing the aperture
Another artist presents his first museum solo exhibition just around the block, at The International African American Museum (IAAM).
IAAM’s Chief Learning and Engagement Officer Malika Pryor said the museum’s special exhibition gallery is a space which will be transformed for every coming special exhibition, offering artistic expressions of diaspora, narrative and humanity. She hopes it’s a space that will bring folks to continually visit the museum — especially in the museum’s first year, during which the space will be transformed five times in 12 months.
The first solo exhibition for that space is an honor given to Charleston artist Fletcher Williams III — an interdisciplinary artist who is making some of the most conceptual and exciting visual work one can find in Charleston.
In When It Rains It Shines, Williams presents a semi-autobiographical, postmodern installation, where viewers walk into a haunting, compelling, colorfully lit hideaway reminiscent of a garden pergola.
Stepping into the space, you’re confronted with Southern symbols, including milk crates, and hair extensions presented as palm bundles waiting to be braided. Williams takes his longtime motif of the fence into psychedelic distortion, and uses sound, light and reflection to talk about the things that disrupt or provoke his dreaming in the South.
From his artist statement: “Visitors are led through a labyrinth of Williams’s memories, rituals, superstitionse and disillusionments, collectively expressing his interest in the psychological and emotional implications of shared and private spaces, signs, symbols and experimental storytelling.”
More coming arts events
MOJA Arts Festival, an annual celebration of Black arts and culture, takes place from Sept. 28 through Oct. 8 this year. The full lineup of events includes theater, poetry and music programming. A juried exhibition highlighting regional visual artists will be held at both the City Gallery and the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. For the full festival lineup, visit mojafestival.com.
Sketch comedy show Rip City announced its next three shows, Sept. 30, Oct. 21 and Nov. 18. Tickets are $12 in advance to see what’s been coined Charleston’s version of Saturday Night Live. Check out @ripcitychs on Instagram.
Hed Hi Studio hosts Lazy Boy, an exhibition of paintings by Jeremy Croft, Oct. 14, and Art Pals on Nov. 4, a group show of artists who’ve exhibited at Hed Hi. Visit hedhistudio.com for more.
A new special exhibition opens at the Gibbes Museum on Oct. 20. Something Terrible May Happen: The Art of Aubrey Beardsley and Edward Ned I.R. Jennings will expand on the lasting influence of “aesthetic fever” as it relates to Charleston’s visual arts. Check out the full lineup of fall programming at gibbesmuseum.org.
The Free Verse Poetry Festival is back for its seventh year. Led by former poet laureate Marcus Amaker, the festival, Oct. 18 to Oct. 22, offers two workshops, a potluck, a poetry slam for high school students and more. Check out @freeversepoets on Instagram to learn more.
The annual Charleston Literary Festival returns Nov. 3 to Nov. 12.
Discover an exciting line-up of speakers from award-winning novelists to historians, biographers, scientists, artists and activists. The all-access season pass costs $625 and will get you into the opening night party, or buy tickets for individual lectures for $25.
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