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MCA Talk: Rebecca Zorach, Pemon Rami & Cauleen Smith


An image projected on the wall is created by three tripods in a row: the first holds a camera, the second a miniature landscape, and the third a small sculpture in front of a monitor depicting tree branches and the sky.

Installation view, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Work shown: Cauleen Smith, Space Station: Little Instruments, 2015

Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago


Rebecca Zorach, Mary Jane Crowe Professor in art and art history at Northwestern University; Pemon Rami, director of educational and public programming at the DuSable Museum of American American History; and artist Cauleen Smith discuss the history and the legacy of the American Association of Creative Musicians, AfriCOBRA, and the Black Arts Movement.

Presented in association with the exhibition The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now.

About the Speakers

Rebecca Zorach teaches and writes on early modern European art (15th–17th centuries), contemporary activist art, and art of the 1960s and 1970s. Recent articles have addressed AfriCOBRA's gender and family politics; and the experimental art center Art & Soul, founded on the west side of Chicago in 1968 by the Museum of Contemporary Art and the former street gang Conservative Vice Lords. She is currently completing on a book on Art & Soul and the landscape of the Black Arts Movement in Chicago (late 1960–70s), and undertaking a new project that considers the relationship of artistic and political agency to natural and social ecologies. She is a member of Feel Tank Chicago, is on the board of the South Side Community Art Center and South Side Projections, and co-organizes the archive and oral history project Never The Same with Daniel Tucker.

Pemon Rami is a theater director and film producer in addition to her work at the DuSable. Rami was a major contributor to the Black student and Black Arts Movement. He cochaired the high school student workshop at the national Black Power conference held in Philadelphia in 1968\. As a student leader of the 1968 boycotts of the Chicago Public School, he was one of the leaders of the city-wide boycott which led to a walk-out of 35,000 students. Since the late 1960s, Rami has been involved in the development of television production, films, music concerts, documentaries, plays, and multimedia work. He has received awards from Windows of Opportunity, the Chicago Black Theatre Alliance, the African American Arts Alliance (Lifetime Achievement Award), American Advertising Federation Gold Nugget Award, International Television Association, The National Association of Audio Visual Communicators, Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP - Best Theatre Director Award, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's President's Award, Proclamation from the City of Los Angeles, Proclamation from the City of Detroit, and the Key to the City of Detroit.

Cauleen Smith merges improvisational music, speculative fiction, African American history, and processional forms to create temporal and spatial ruptures that make room for new affinities, empathies, and consciousnesses. Smith's films, objects, and installations have been featured in group exhibitions at the Studio Museum of Harlem, New York; Houston Contemporary Art Museum; the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas; San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art; D21 Leipzig, Germany; Yerba Buena Center for Arts, CA; and the New Museum, New York. She has had solo shows at The Kitchen in New York, MCA Chicago, and Threewalls in Chicago; and Women & Their Work in Austin, Texas. Her work has also been featured in such high-profile festivals as Sundance and was screened twice by demand at the prestigious Robert Flaherty Film Seminar Exhibition. In 1999, she was selected as one of Ten Directors to Watch by Variety magazine. Smith is the recipient of several grants and awards including a Creative Capital grant, the Rockefeller Media Arts Award, Chicago 3Arts Grant, and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Smith earned an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles. She currently lives in Chicago while teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Art low-residency MFA program. Visit her website for more information.