2021 Loisaida Artist in Residence:
by: Bonita Oliver and Alex Van Gils
Loisaida Center Inc. is pleased to present the visionary work of Bonita Oliver in collaboration with Alex Van Gils: Seeking Truth.
Seeking Truth is a 360 degree, virtual, theatrical documentary examining the prismatic historical image of the woman who named herself Sojourner Truth.
Actors and musicians will distinguish the documented and imagined voices of this influential orator and itinerant preacher during a virtual presentation. This will be followed by a live Q&A during which Bonita and Alex will share about their creative process which incorporates multiple digital elements and new technologies.
What is the subject matter?
“Seeking Truth” presents representations of Sojourner based on various accounts of her experiences and what they reveal- or not – about who she was as a multifaceted, complex person who was Black and a woman. We look at the agency she might have had in shaping those representations of herself. We will look at those representations – which have received less attention throughout US History in contrast to her more notable image as the orator of the famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. Some sources for this work include the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, and Sojourner Truth a Life, A Symbol- by Nell Irvin Painter.
Through a modern PR lens, we can re- construct an interior experience about how the proliferation of her celebrated “Aint I a Woman” speech in particular might have been a thoroughly considered strategy on Truth’s part.
In Seeking Truth, Sojourner becomes a medium for examining modern society’s perception of Black Womanhood. For this reason much of our target audience will be high school students of Black, African American and LatinX demographics. High school students are at an age where they are exploring their own agency. They are finding a way to shape their own images within a current pop culture which places extreme emphasis on public presentation and social media influence- often to the psychological and emotional detriment of these children. Social media tends to be High School age children’s primary vehicle for validation and sources of information. We hope that this study of Sojourner will inspire deep contemplation on these matters.
During the research and development phase of the residency, Bonita conducted a Call for Public Participation where a multigenerational audience gathered virtually to test the immersive virtual environment of Bonita’s Metaverse.
Participants will be invited to explore themes of image distortion throughout history, personal narrative and legacy as we move into a digital future as artists. There will be a discussion during which participants are invited to share about their own process. The event will be held live, in person- for the general public (though teenage, interdisciplinary, artists of color will be strongly encouraged to participate) It will also be streamed online for a wider- at home- audience.This event was held December 17th, 2021 at 630pm EST.
During the “Seeking Truth” presentation, audiences will be invited into a virtual space and given an interactive tour. Audience members will be able to speak with each other and with their virtual tour guide as they look over historical documents and digital art pieces.
The virtual presentation will incorporate scripted text and movement with improvisation, alternating between prose and song. Inspiration is drawn from a variety of musical styles including Classical music from the late 1790’s to early 1880’s, Folk, Gospel, Jazz, and ambient electronic music. There will be re-imagined musical arrangements (incorporating electronics) by composers who represent the ideal Sojourner spoke of- a society that recognizes all people as equal and gives the right for everyone to be treated fairly and justly.
Two of the composers included for emphasis of this ideal are Gertrude van den Bergh(a female composer of Dutch heritage) and Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint Georges. These composers were seen as anomalies within Classical music at the time of Sojourner’s life – from her birth to passing. Their music is still not given the respect due them to this very day. The original score will also include musical compositions by Oliver and Van Gils with a contribution from Jade Litaker. Other musical collaborators on the project include; Caitlin Edwards, Dara Hankins and Shanyse Strickland.
1. Conducted tests with a small, live audience as the interactive elements of Seeking Truth- which will become part of the final presentations – are developed. These tests resulted in a set design centered on real time generative visual projection, manipulated and instigated by the performers’ gestures.
2. Held virtual and on-site discussions via LoisaidaTV and at Loisaida, Inc. Center about Improvisation, Multimedia and Virtual Art with a focus on the significance of these disciplines during the time of Covid-19.
3. Presented a virtual performance and historical museum using nascent technologies.
The Loisaida Artistic Residency program is funded by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council.