History and Method

Professor Anthony Ryan Hatch co-produced Black Phoenix Rising: Death and Resurrection in 2017-2018 as a sociologically-inspired collaborative creative arts project with a group of Wesleyan undergraduates and Ernesto Cuevas, Jr., whose work is featured in our title image of a Black phoenix. This initial collaboration produced 7 pieces including a hand-drawn original comic book, two films, two magazines, sculpture, and a 30-minute soundscape, and a new website, all of which we exhibited at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at the Wesleyan Center for the Arts on February 22 – February 26, 2018. Intellectual, creative, and financial support for Black Phoenix Rising was provided by the Center for the Humanities, the Creative Campus Initiative, the Digital Scholarship Innovation Fund, and the Center for African American Studies at Wesleyan.

Black Phoenix Rising explores black people’s ways of resisting material and symbolic death in American life and culture. Grounded in the Black radical tradition, each of our works have been collaboratively conceived and produced through the power of collective memory and the medium of storytelling. Through artistic expression, we subvert the narrative that black people’s only existence is death by transforming the symbolic meanings of death in ways that push back against anti-black racisms. Despite it all, black people are still here. Through the Middle Passage, colonial occupations, through generations of forced labor and legalized captivity, through iterations of Jim and Jane Crow, sexual terrorism, mob violence, hyper economic exploitation and plunder, through all that, and more, black people have endured. It is worth taking a moment to acknowledge that miracle. That’s what George Lipsitz calls it—a miracle. Black people’s survival is a miracle. Black people’s demand to be considered human in the face of structured dehumanization is a miracle. Black people’s commitment to real democracy while living through systematic and intentional exclusion is a miracle. To call these miracles is to invoke the spiritual/metaphysical/transcendent force that has made this survival possible, or, at least, has conditioned possibilities so that black people could make it so themselves. We draw on intergenerational, interdisciplinary black radical traditions as we envision creative responses to the murderousness of our time.

Methodology Grounded in Black radical traditions in African American Studies, we have created a set of works that illustrate black peoples’ practices of resisting death and the symbolic meanings of birth, death, and resurrection in black life and culture. Each of our works have been collaboratively conceived and produced and aim to complicate understandings of people’s power and agency. Through learning, dialogue and fellowship, we have come to think of ourselves as an organic, intellectual, and creative collective and have worked through an organic process of project conception, design, and production. These works have provided us an opportunity to investigate critical ideas about racism and black lives that extend into the cultural realms of the sound and image, into embodied dynamics of feeling, sensation, and practice.