NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2013 - Page 77

In most traditional African cultures, as well as discerning communities throughout the diaspora, art is conceptual rather than descriptive so as to bridge spiritual functions with mundane experience. The Yoruba people tell us, according to Babatunde Lawal, that, “Threeness is to the initiate as twoness is to the uninitiated”, signifying that a bond between two initiates of a sacred bond that has sworn an oath of secrecy, and most importantly, has jointly witnessed the invisible third party of the bonding transaction, is stronger than the bond between two friends. Inhabited in the third party is esoteric knowledge which is only shared by the initiates, suggesting that metaphysical knowledge is much deeper than empirical observation. Even a deep reading of raisin will reveal traces of African metaphysical significations, i.e., the Eschu trickster figure of the deceased father, whose ethereal presence plays significantly in the progress and outcome of the play, is never completely lost on the consciousness of the black audience. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE In his inquiry into Black Church rituals, Joseph Murphy has observed that, “the sprit …is the celebration of Gods ultimate freedom in the body of the congregation. In word, song, music, and movement, the spirit is brought down to become incarnated in the very bodies of the devotees, showing them its power to sustain, heal, and liberate the community.” Contrary to the hermeneutics of Christian theology which separates the corporeal activities of the visible world from an inscrutable spiritual world, most people of African descent feel a connectedness with the spirit, since, according to the Akan belief system, the body merely encapsulates the spirit and functions as a threshold between the secular and the sacred, enabling the humans to interact directly with the invisible world. Pearl Primus, the world renowned choreographer of traditional dance, had once observed that when her dancers reached the “ecstasy of religious experience, the dancer becomes a god form and the body frees itself of its structural limitations. Legs, bodies, arms, heads move in seemingly impossible counterpoint.” Thus, the visual and performing arts are means of embodying, affirming, revitalizing, and celebrating human existence. 75 So, how do we discern the manifestation of our African imaginary in the creative process of art production? We do not have to go far to discover the expressive power of Africa in the mundane activities of black life, including the near levitation of the body in Double Dutch, the mimetic movements of Marching Bands, the rhythmic pattern of colors in Fashion Shows, the transformative, invocative force of a Slam Dunk, the ritualized cleansing of Collard Greens. And in the absence of a James Brown shout-on-the-good-foot, we simply go to a black Baptist Church where the traditional Preacher, much like a Griot, draws upon the full repertory of African performative devises to confirm the power of the spirit within the Gospel text. His narrative is infused with intonations, chants, mimetic gestures, stylized vocality that includes shouts, hollers, yodels, ululation, falsetto, repetition and improvisations that drive call and response, even conjure speaking–intongues, the transmission of esoteric sounds, words and gestures to allow devotees access, much like the rhetorical strategies of African oratory tradition, to encoded messages in the text. Post-modern academics refer to the latter strategy as “signifyin’(g)”, which has always been a distinctive rhetorical feature of African Diasporic performance, both secular and sacred. Such performative strategies pave the way for one to bear witness to the spirit and experience its transformative power, so that it is impossible for one to leave a Black Church service the same way one came in. BRN-FALL-2013.indb 75 9/13/13 12:48 AM