The Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 500 University Ave., will present the world premiere of “The Soul Train,” a video and sound installation by Dara Birnbaum, starting April 14.
The three-screen installation commissioned by MAG revisits the media’s representation of events in Rochester in 1964. That year, the black community rebelled in anger and frustration after decades of repression and provoked by a police action. The exhibit will remain on view through Oct. 13.
“The Soul Train” presents how TV captured and represented the events of July 1964, shown alongside the voices and images of Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and Eddie James “Son” House Jr., whose Delta blues composition “Grinnin’ in Your Face” was written and performed in Rochester during this turbulent time.
Public discourse at the time was shaped by how the media covered these events and interpreted them through broadcast TV. The coverage largely ignored the complex economic, social and cultural forces that people were responding to “on the ground.”
In contrast to the media coverage in 1964, the 1971 premiere of the first African-American syndicated music-dance TV program “Soul Train,” hosted and produced by Don Cornelius, featured young people celebrating African-American popular music, dance and culture. “Soul Train” and House’s “Grinnin’ in Your Face” continue to speak to a new generation that is creating new networks of culture and social media to challenge the prejudice and injustice that remains part of daily life in communities across the U.S. A new arrangement of “Grinnin’ in Your Face” by the University of Rochester Gospel Choir and director Thomas Green serves as a coda.
“Dara Birnbaum is a pioneering artist who has made a significant contribution to contemporary art through her transformations of the moving image,” project curator John Hanhardt said. “Her videotapes and installations enact a complex and critical engagement with television’s representation of political events and the public’s reception of history. It is a body of work that has expanded the expressive range and power of art-making.”
“The Soul Train” is the third exhibition for “Reflections on Place,” a series of media art commissions inspired by the city of Rochester’s history, culture and politics. The first piece, “Nosferatu (The Undead)” by Javier Teillez, appeared in 2018; the current display, “Lessons of the Hour — Frederick Douglass” by Isaac Julien, is on view through May 12.
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