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#HellaBlack Performance celebrates unapologetic black art

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
#HellaBlack Performance celebrates unapologetic black art
Kadahj Bennett. PHOTO: MELISSA BLACKALL

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery came alive with the sights and sounds of black talent. “#HellaBlack: BCA Mixtape Vol. 1” was a one-night pop-up celebration of Boston’s wide-ranging artists of color.

Melissa Alexis. PHOTO: MELISSA BLACKALL

Pioneered by Lyndsay Allyn Cox, the director of theatre arts at the BCA, the show featured work by Kadahj Bennett, Jean Appolon Expressions, Connections Dance Theater, Ashley Rose, Billy Dean Thomas, Actors’ Shakespeare Project and Melissa Alexis of Cultural Fabric. Clothing and textiles by local shop Zainab Sumu Primitive Modern were on display throughout the night.

“This event came from a place of creativity and dreaming really big,” Cox told the crowd. “I’m really excited to be here kicking off Black History Month with a night of unapologetic blackness.” Though slowly beginning to diversify, the arts scene in Boston is notoriously white-centric. If the city keeps working to get its act together, not only Black History Month, but every night of the year the city could be host to the incredible artworks stemming from that unapologetic blackness.

Educator, organizer and award-winning poet Ashley Rose performed three poems on the black experience in America. “Somehow you forgot that it was my African womb that gave birth to your American dream,” she recited to the crowd. “Even though I sat for eight years as your first lady, you’re still treating me like I’m a housewife of Atlanta.” A few snaps from the poetess quickly spread into a beat of stomps and claps across the crowd and in minutes the poem had burst into an anthem.

Nat Turner

The Actors’ Shakespeare Project performed a selection from “Nat Turner in Jerusalem,” which is playing at Hibernian Hall through Feb. 24. Under pressure from his lawyer, Thomas Gray (Lewis D. Wheeler), Nat Turner (Brandon Green) refuses to spin his story to the tune a white jury would prefer.

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Mindful movement expert Melissa Alexis performed a stirring selection from a work-in-progress. Alexis runs Cultural Fabric, a company that promotes connections in community and business through movement and movement-based exercises. She began her performance with a moment of meditation, saying, “I believe it’s our connection to our ancestors and our ancestral practices that keep us still here.” During the meditation, audience members said aloud the names of their own ancestors, building out the community across space and time.

“#HellaBlack: BCA Mixtape Vol. 1” was a powerful, important coming-together of black artists in Boston. As the performance portion of the night concluded, Cox told the crowd, “The BCA is a space for you. You belong here.”

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