For years now, Rashaad Newsome has been crafting lavish collages, films, sculptures, and performances that tug at the strings of power wielded by traditional media. Centering the intersections of Blackness and queerness, Newsome’s work proposes opulence in the face of societal oppression, sumptuousness as a response to structures that impose scarcity on Black LGBTQ+ communities.
His latest project, co-commissioned by Leslie-Lohman Museum and Times Square Arts, is driven by his longtime love of Ballroom culture. Black Magic takes several shapes: a site-specific installation in the Leslie-Lohman window galleries; a multi-channel performance film (a version of which was presented on screens across Times Square in December); and a virtual event presented in partnership with the art and technology nonprofit Eyebeam.
For Newsome, who founded the annual King of Arms Art Ball in 2013 to provide a platform for queer and gender non-conforming artists and activists in the vogue community, Black Magic is a way of combining several interests at once. The film features excerpts from a 2019 performance at New York Live Arts, which he co-choreographed with Omari Oricci Wiles. Sultry, acrobatic, and just a touch supernatural, Black Magic channels what Newsome refers to as “the human spirit’s strength to navigate systemic racism, homophobia, and a deadly epidemic, with grace and dignity.” Dancers sport vibrant monochrome looks, performing alongside a 10-person band and seven-person chorus, at times recalling the rich tradition of Black marching bands and color guard ensembles — all with a queer twist. You can check it yourself on the museum’s dedicated project site.
On February 5, Newsome will be joined for a conversation by fellow artist Kiyan Williams, whose brilliant sculptures employ soil and their own body to probe the relationship between Blackness, subjugation, and ecology. For “Creative Cookbook,” the pair will discuss their artistic inspirations, “relationships to soil and earth, WEB Du Bois, and the lie of the American experiment.”
When: February 5, 6pm (EST)
Where: online at Leslie-Lohman Museum and Eyebeam
More info at Leslie-Lohman Museum
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misstated the surname of the Black Magic co-choreographer. He is Omari Oricci Wiles, not Williams. We regret the error.