Local dance collective Pones Inc. continues its Cincinnati Art Museum collaborations with Of Nina, a short dance film that takes place within CAM’s special exhibition of Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick. It will premiere online in early December.
Combining original spoken-word poetry and movement choreography by Teisha Murray, Of Nina is an homage to the late American singer-songwriter and civil rights activist Nina Simone. It comments on similar narratives related to racism, sexism, sexuality, and identity as seen in Cut to the Quick, which features more than 80 works created by contemporary artist Kara Walker between 1994 and 2019. The exhibition opened at CAM on November 5 and serves as the immersive setting for Of Nina’s performance.
Murray, who is one of the four dancers in the film, says her goal is to mirror Walker’s work through movement. “We are also having a deliberate conversation with Walker’s pieces,” Murray says. “How do generational wounds feel? How do they affect the way one carries themselves in the world? Similarly, what does healing look and feel like? How does it move? How does the discomfort of both the wounds and the healing—because healing isn’t easy work—impact the body and carriage of the dancers and of Black women?”
Pones premiered the the first rendition of Of Nina through a video that was released in July. Three dancers performed outdoors, keeping rhythm with Murray’s spoken-word poem. With this second rendition, she invites the dancers to explore their own styles of movement and interpretations of both the poem and of Walker’s artwork.
Combining artistic forms this way and working through challenging topics for Of Nina seems to align organically with Walker’s work. The artist spans multiple media from drawing, painting, sculpture, film, printing techniques, and cut paper silhouettes. Pones Executive Director Kim Popa says this collaboration of artistic disciplines also connects with the dance collective’s mission. “Through our 12-year history of making art for social justice, we have found that creating art around difficult or controversial subject matter can be less confrontational and potentially even more potent,” she says. “We believe in the transformative power of art and hope to educate and motivate curiosity and change through this piece.”
Of Nina shares similar artistic objectives as All the Flowers Are for Me, another Pones short film inspired by and incorporating Anila Quayyum Agha’s artwork that premiered online in January. Pones and CAM have also collaborated for Art After Dark events, fundraisers, and various learning and interpretation programs. “Pones invites museum audiences to experience visual art, whether it be a special exhibition or permanent collection artwork, through the power of dance,” says CAM Marketing and Communications Manager Kaitlyn Sharo. “We have seen amazing results with virtual content, especially during the pandemic. We realize not everyone is comfortable attending in person events and wanted to make the performance as accessible as possible. We hope viewers will look deeper and not look away.”
“The audience can expect to engage with this video in a way that’s unique to film,” Popa says about Of Nina. “They can watch and re-watch this piece to explore more deeply the subject matter and to feel the visceral connection that dance offers in bolstering the cathartic and experiential nature of this visual installation.”
Of Nina will be shared via both organizations’ social media channels and websites on November 26. Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick is on display through January 16, 2022.