Black Visual Archive (BVA) is dedicated to the documentation and review of contemporary black and post-black visual culture. Founded in 2010 by Meg Onli, BVA is a collection of critical writings that contextualizes the work of African American artists through historical and visual history. Based in Chicago, BVA investigates the city as a unique site for black visual culture with articles, reviews, and interviews that have surveyed the works of Kerry James Marshall and Theaster Gates while also reflecting on the defining archives of Johnson Publishing Company and Numero Group. With a particular interest in how contemporary artists mine the complex history of black representation in America, BVA will continually reflect and link works within their sociocultural constructs.

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Credits
Written by Meg Onli
Edited by Gracen Brilmyer

A project of the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program.

The Radio Show

No. 32
Posted on

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion
The Radio Show
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Feb 20–23, 2014

In his seminal 1989 film Do the Right Thing Spike Lee bookends his turbulent narrative of one hot summer day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with the watchful eye of disc jockey, Mister Señor Love Daddy. Love Daddy (played by Samuel L. Jackson) takes the pulse of the local community, providing humor, music, as well as social commentary over the day’s events on WE LOVE radio, 108 FM. Black radio shows — later dubbed Urban Contemporary by lengadary disk jockey Frankie Crocker1 — have often ushered in innovative musical movements for listeners of all races while also tackling the complex social plight often faced by people of color. Lee’s utilization of Love Daddy as an almost omnipresent character in Do the Right Thing reflects the enormous importance that local radio stations have played within urban communities.

Kyle Solo Radio Show 4thbyStevenSchreiber

Culling from the same historical well, Dancer/Choreographer Kyle Abraham mixes the history of now-defunct radio stations of his hometown of Pittsburgh, WAMO-AM and WAMO-FM with his own personal narrative of his father’s loss of speech due to complications from a stroke in The Radio Show. With an R&B soundtrack spanning the gospel roots of  Aretha Franklin’s “Mary Don’t You Weep,” to Antony & The Johnson’s stripped cover of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” The Radio Show is an auditory pastiche of cultural commentary through music and radio personality pontification. Consisting of two acts, 860 AM and 106.7 FM, Abraham begins the show warmly greeting family and friends throughout the audience, traversing the venue barefoot. Periodically, he appears stricken with paralysis, as he becomes momentarily still for the exception of a quivering hand. Despite ushering in the event, the performance rarely centers on Abraham himself. Instead, his troupe performs much of the first half in small groups and is surprisingly dominated by female dancers. The AM section reflects strong communal ties as many of the dancers (Beatrice Capote, Indigo Ciochetti, Catherine Ellis Kirk, Chalvar Monteiro, Connie Shiau, and Eric Williams) perform largely in unison. Abraham enters and exits intermittently, performing the frustrations of his father’s loss of vocal communication; these gestures were often observed by unsteady movements and periodic guttural wailings. The loss of voice, particularly within the narrative of Abraham’s father, is a theme that at times becomes convoluted as the pulsating soundtrack dominates much of the performance.

The FM portion begins after a brief hiatus (audience members are notified there is no intermission upon entering) and drastically changes the rhythm of the performance by introducing radio show call in questions and responses. Much of the dialog and subsequent performance centers around the changing heteronormative gender roles of African-American men and women. These segments get at the pertinent roles that radio stations can play for communities and the subsequent voice that is lost once they are discontinued. Abraham has noted that The Radio Show stems from several unanswered questions:

Without black radio, where is the voice of the black community? Radio was prevalent during times of strife in the past? Where is it’s place today? Is Radio fading away? Are we still listening?

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In this digital age where many media outlets are finding themselves obsolete it is an easy answer to suggest that stations like WAMO have moved into cyberspace. This however is shortsighted as it overlooks the privilege of accessing such space. Instead, theses barriers continue to destabilize communities leaving them much like Abraham’s father, ostracized and lacking concrete modes of verbal expression.

  1. http://www.udel.edu/nero/Radio/readings/urban.html