The video Shade Compositions begins with a group of people of colour on a stage looking very unimpressed. A young man in front has a purse dangling from the crook in his arm. His wrist is splendidly limp and his bright red lipstick matches his clothing. Suddenly, he breaks the silence by loudly kissing his teeth. The others join in, and a chorus of teeth-kissing begins. This is soon followed by elaborate yawns, eye-rolling and declarations of “pleaaase.” Creator Rashaad Newsome joins in by live recording sounds with a hacked Nintendo Wii and playing them back. The sounds and gestures of disapproval evolve and blend —it’s not music, but it’s musical — and it’s hard to resist nodding to the beat. It’s alluring, it’s hilarious, and it’s so much shade you need to turn on a lamp.
“[Shade Compositions] is really using black vernacular to create minimalist music,” Newsome says. “It’s kind of taking these gestures and manipulating them in real time to create music, but the performers are also creating thousands of narratives around these gestures.”
The New York City-based artist’s work comes in a variety of media and has been exhibited at The Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and now the 28th Images Festival in Toronto.
His contribution to the festival, called Silence Please, the Show is About to Begin, includes screenings of Shade Compositions and two other videos, Icon and Knot, and several collages. This work will be on display until mid-June, but only on opening night can you see a live dance performance based on Knot — a performance that, if it has half the charisma of Shade Compositions, should not be missed.
“[Knot is] about everything I’ve been thinking about for the past eight years. Like stigmatized dance forms, such as break-dancing and voguing, and the relationship between them,” he says. “The video is dance-heavy, so I want to bring physical dancers in conversation with the video.”
Images Festival focuses not only on film and video, but on everything from collage to live performance. Part of its mandate is to identify and support “work that has been marginalized or unrecognized by existing exhibition venues” and create dialogue about issues of race, culture, gender and sexuality. This fits well with Newsome’s work, which the Images Festival describes as “a bold operatic encounter that challenges what it means to be black and queer.”