Friday, March 20, 7pm
A hybrid event combining photography, video, voice, and word, Trace explores the legacy of writer and activist Tom Dent while retracing parts of his 1990 journey visiting lesser-known sites of the Civil Rights struggle, as documented in his book, Southern Journey: Return to the Civil Rights Movement. Dent worked in connection to a larger cultural and economic diaspora, examining the contemporary effects of colonialism while working with and helping to organize black writers and artists. Presented as part of the Trade Routes exhibition at Proteus Gowanus, Trace follows the networks connecting post-colonial Africa and the Caribbean with New York, the Southern Civil Rights movement and beyond.
Writer Eben Wood and photographer Lady Perez spent early January in Dent’s personal archive, housed at Tulane’s Amistad Research Center in New Orleans. From there, they traveled north through rural Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta, shadowing Dent’s own southern journey in reverse, ending where Dent began, in Greensboro, North Carolina, site of the first lunch-counter sit-in by A & T students in February 1960. Trace represents a simultaneous horizontal and vertical journey, moving among past and present, here and there across the winter landscapes of New Orleans and the Delta, posing the question of where a writer’s work is located. A kind of neo-noir, half historical inquiry and half detective story, Trace re-imagines the diasporic networks Dent traced in his own writing, connecting local and regional, American and global identities.
Wood and Perez will be joined in discussion by Dr. Rashidah Ismaili, friend and colleague of Dent in the Umbra Workshop. Author of many books, Ismaili has most recently published Autobiography of the Lower East Side (Northampton House, 2014), a novel in stories of the pre-gentrified LES, a time when that neighborhood was “roiling with art and politics and music.”
Born in New Orleans in 1932, Dent moved to New York’s Lower East Side in the early 1960s, where he played a founding role in two important groups that focused on the intersection of African-American culture and Black diaspora politics: On Guard for Cultural Freedom and the Umbra Workshop. On Guard became best known for organizing the 1961 protests at the UN following Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba’s murder; Umbra is widely seen as an essential precursor to the Black Arts Movement. Leaving New York for the South as a press officer for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, Dent began working with the activist Free Southern Theater in the Mississippi Delta and rural Louisiana. At the theater’s headquarters in the crumbling Desire Projects of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, he founded the Umbra-inspired writing workshops that became the Congo Square Writers Union. His last book, Southern Journey: Return to the Civil Rights Movement, records Dent’s 1990 road trip to lesser-known sites of the Civil Rights struggle. Dent died of a heart attack in New Orleans in 1998.