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“Yes, I’m an African, but first and foremost, I’m an artist.” In one short phrase, MoCADA (Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art) photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa touches upon many debates alive in the young museum.
Established in 1999, MoCADA focuses on the artwork, theories and cultures of the African diaspora. Kalia Brooks, director of exhibitions at MoCADA defines diaspora as “the migration or movement of culture.” Generally, the idea of African diaspora is that of a shared African heritage through descent and regardless of or across locations. This past Monday, July 18 was the debut of a new half-hour program, MoCADA TV, on Brooklyn’s BCAT TV network, an arts-focused public channel.
The program exuded joy and creativity. Beautiful patterning and uplifting beats inter cut with statements of artists, MoCADA staff and patrons. MoCADA’s articulate and lively staff members have a clear connection to their surrounding community, whether it be local or diasporan. “I see images of myself and my own family members here … I never thought I would see something like this where I can relate to it,” a patron commented on the program. Unfortunately, as I don’t own a television, I streamed the inaugural episode live from BCAT and the quality was underwhelming. The much more vibrant trailer online suggests that I was only getting part of the picture.
The style of MoCADA TV is reminiscent of the PBS-affiliated program, Art21, with its clips of artworks and artist sound bites. Both television programs allow for the artists and their work to speak for themselves, without including much criticism from outside sources. As MoCADA TV’s episodes are about half as long as Art21’s programs, the pacing is much quicker. It is unclear whether or not MoCADA TV will be an educational TV show like Art21, or if it is more of a promotional vehicle for the museum and its artists.
In its mission, MoCADA connects the arts and cultures of the African diaspora to “contemporary urban issues.” In episode 1, filmmaker Nikyatu Jusu described the gratification she gets out of working with “a demographic of kids who look like [her],” adding that, “a lot of Black and Hispanic kids … aren’t ever exposed to the opportunity to think of filmmaking or the arts in general as a viable career path, and I think it’s important for them to see people who look like them who are actively making money off the arts.” Aside from Jusu’s own teaching, MoCADA organizes educational public programming alongside each of their exhibitions with the objective of encouraging community involvement and education.
At least one of the public education programs has a family focus, “POWER GIRLS,” and it was featured on the television program and organized in tandem with the Ain’t I A Woman exhibition, which was curated by Kimberli Gant. In the segment, we see young African-American girls being encouraged to explore the color of their bodies and the texture of their hair with love, using their own definitions to describe what they are experiencing. “I really do think that black is the color that I should have … I’m happy of my color,” said one of the students.
I’ve seen the trailer for episode 1 posted around the web informally as “an introduction to MoCADA,” which is an accurate description. The show provided a sampling of who’s who at MoCADA as well as some MoCADA artists and colleagues. In addition to those who were mentioned above, the program introduced us to Mary Evans, Shantrelle P. Lewis (director of exhibitions & programming at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute) and musician Blitz the Ambassador.
Those of us at Hyperallergic are curious about MoCADA TV’s intended audience, and how the use of television will further the mission of the museum itself.
Season 1 of MoCADA TV airs weekly in Brooklyn on BCAT TV, Mondays at 5:30pm EST.
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