In these divided times, where it is so difficult to talk about our differences and find common ground, art can play a vital role in bringing people together.
That’s the idea behind Haitian-American composer and activist Daniel Bernard Roumain’s new video exhibition “The Seeing,” produced in partnership with FirstWorks and WaterFire Providence, on view at the WaterFire Arts Center through February 6.
A complementary performance, “The Telling”, featuring a new collection of original Romanian compositions in collaboration with over a dozen artists, was originally scheduled for January 22 but was postponed to September 29 due to the COVID surge. He will kick off the 2022-23 season of FirstWorks.
“The Seeing” presents six films marked by Romanian, linked to our desire to hear each other, to understand each other and to love each other, and all exploring the fundamental question: Can we see each other?
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Romanian, a prolific composer and performer who has worked with artists ranging from Philip Glass to Lady Gaga, and who served as an artistic ambassador for FirstWorks for two years, says he wanted to merge music and activism because of the connection he finds between them.
“There are artists who believe that all arts are political, all arts,” says Roumain. “[They believe] human expression is political, “Swan Lake” is political, “The Nutcracker” is political, “Bambi” is political, and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is political. [They believe] Prince, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan are political and Mozart is political. It depends on the audience, and it depends on your own beliefs. I happen to believe that music is inherently political and reflective, while certainly being able to be part of activism.”
“Art is resistance with a capital R,” he adds. “Of course, my music is political, and most of what I write and compose is as an activist, now more than ever. I think a show like ‘The Seeing’ or ‘The Telling’ empowers audiences to have his politics and his activism in a room and in a place that I hope starts a conversation with mine.”
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The six films of “The Seeing”, lasting from 30 minutes to just a few minutes, are: “They Still Want To Kill Us”, “About Face”, “I Have Nothing to Do Except Love”, “Fear” , “Requiem, for the living, in color” and “Our country”.
“‘The Seeing’ is a parallel experience that I think serves as a commentary on ‘The Telling’, which is a series of works that I have composed that are all centered around the struggle for social justice, but, just as important, how we talk to each other,” Romanian says. “What stories are told and, ultimately, how do we see each other?
“I think where we’re at right now is we’re divided, and I think we can agree on a certain set of values, but I don’t think we share the same ideas. of morality.”
During the Sept. 29 performance of “The Telling,” Roumain will play acoustic and electric violins while being joined by several local musicians, including some from Community MusicWorks in Providence. There will be both dance and visual elements, with the audience surrounding the performers in a box-like seat form at the WaterFire Arts Center.
“It’s something I’ve never really done before,” he says. “There will be chamber music, a string quartet, piano, solo violin, solo electric violin, lyrical singing and modern dance.”
Performers will include classical pianist Melvin Chen, vice-dean of the Yale School of Music, and Shura Baryshnikov, daughter of ballet great Mikhail Baryshnikov and actress Jessica Lange.
The free exhibit “The Seeing” is on view at the WaterFire Arts Center, 475 Valley St., Providence, Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. through February 6. Masks are mandatory inside the venue. Tickets for “The Telling” will cost between $35 and $55, with a pay-per-view option. For more information on both events, go to first-works.org or the WaterFire Arts Center website, waterfire.org.