In recognition of Black History Month the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus is presenting a powerful exhibition remembering the six days of the infamous Watts Rebellion. “50 Years and I Still Can’t Breathe: Remembering the 50th Anniversary of the 1965 Watts Rebellion and Now” presents a compelling collection of socially conscious art addressing themes of legal and police injustice against minority communities from the Watts Rebellion to the present.
Thirty two multicultural artists comment on injustices that took place during the rebellion and continue today. During the six days of the Watts Riots in August 1965, 34 lives were lost; more than 1,000 people were injured; over 3,000 individuals were arrested; and upwards of $40 million in property damage occurred.
The exhibition features original documentation of the Rebellion along with media accounts of the traumatic events of that August. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Toni Scott’s majestically disconcerting installation “Death as the Hands of Police.” Situated in the middle of the main exhibition space this three-dimensional work features a plaster cast of a black man mounted on wood with a conspicuous target on his chest, emblematic of the deeper peril facing young black and brown men today. Over his face is a cloth reading
“I Can’t Breathe” On both sides of the plaster figure, the artist has written an unnerving list of 82 names of people of color who have died in police custody from 1999 through 2014.
The works are overwhelming in their impact and demonstrate the power of art to contest social injustice. The works compel viewers to swiftly and viscerally grasp the human tragedy of murder and the brutal reality of the slogan, “Black Lives Matter.’ The title of the exhibition comes from the tragedy of Eric Garner gasping “ I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe”, as he died of a choke hold at the hands of New York City police officers on July 17, 2014.
Moving from South Central Los Angeles to the bucolic Barnsdall Art Park in Hollywood, the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery is featuring “ SKIN”. This timely, topical and thought provoking exhibition addresses issues that have been increasingly prominent since the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama. Although the election seemed to symbolize strides thought to have been made in race relations since the violent upheavals of 1965, it also revealed the continued ruptures in the skin that binds us as Americans and as people. Never in the history of the United States has an election so graphically revealed the deep divide between races that still exists in our country.
Using art as a vehicle to open a dialog about race, skin color and the tragic racially charged events over the last year, artists have been galvanized to utilize their work to bring this conversation to the forefront. The exhibition examines the work of 36 contemporary artists, who through painting, sculpture, video, mixed media and video, are inspiring dialogue about race and identity, while challenging the very definitions.
The Matrix Theater honors Black History Month with the Los Angeles premiere of “The Mountaintop”, directed by Obie Award-winner Roger Guenveur Smith and starring Larry Bates and Danielle Truitt. Recipient of London’s 2010 Olivier Award, Katori Hall’s gripping and often humorous re-imagining of events the night before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. takes on new meaning with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement
What thoughts and emotions might have pulsed through the mind and heart on Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968, his last night alive? In The Mountaintop, a tired Dr. King retiring to his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis after delivering his now famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. As a storm rages outside he checks the room for listening devices, peers through the curtains, and throws his hat on the bed. Does this portend to the bad luck to com
He’s exhausted, has a bad cough, and is disappointed in the turnout for his appearance and plagued by the constant threats on his life. He paces, thinking about the next speech he is planning and waits for his friend and associate Reverend Ralph Abernathy to return with his requested pack of Pall Mall cigarettes. He orders coffee from room service which is brought up by a flirtatious, brash and vocal young hotel maid. The maid, Camae, just happens to have Pall Malls and a small hip flask in her pocket. They drink, smoke and discuss a multitude of political, civil rights, and personal issues. King talks about sending his wife flowers each time he travels with the promise that he will return before they wilt.
Hall’s quest to show King as a flesh and blood man becomes a delicate balancing act between Truitt’s comedic characterization of Carmae and Larry Bates troubled King. The lighthearted flirty repartee between King and the irreverent giggling maid, contrasted with the civil rights icon’s soaring oratory takes audiences on an emotional ride veering from laughter to somber. King acts as straight man for Carmae jokes one minute, while in the next moment he’s pondering what we contribute and what we leave behind.
The Matrix Theater, 7657 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, 90046
February 6 – April 10
50 Years and I Still Can’t Breathe: Remembering the 50th Anniversary of the 1965 Watts Rebellion and Now
Watts Towers Arts Center Campus
1727 East 107th Street, Los Angeles, 90002
Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery
4800 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, 90027
February 7 to April 17