Saturday, July 21, 2012

Starting the Dialog on Racism and Equality

by Nadine Patterson

Place Philadelphia is a project that I am working on with Ain Gordon and the Painted Bride Art Center of Philadelphia. We are looking at the ways in which the self-help movement of early 19th century African Americans intersected with the abolitionist and suffragette movements. We are also making linkages between then and now in the progressive movement to see how far we have come and what we can learn from our predecessors.

Today I attended the last in a six week lecture series by Anthony Monteiro on the ideology of capitalism and the liberation struggle of African Americans. I wonder what the rise of corporate influence in art and culture means for this project specifically and if (or how) the real voices of community will be shared through this project. One of the community scholars Ain and I spoke with recently is Lori Ginzberg. She asked us what would we be willing to sacrifice today in order to attain justice and equality for all? Would we be willing to give a portion of our week for a just cause? What would we be willing to give up in terms of our material comfort?

 “To live with the pretense that racism is a doctrine of a very few is to disarm us in fighting it frontally as scientifically unsound, morally repugnant and socially destructive. The prescription for the cure rests with the accurate diagnosis of the disease. A people who began a national life inspired by a vision of a society of brotherhood can redeem itself. But redemption can come only through a humble acknowledgment of guilt and an honest knowledge of self.” – Excerpt from Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The people that we are researching for this project were acutely aware of the issues of their day. Through study groups, newspapers, book clubs, churches, quilting circles, teas and conventions- men and women of all races took the risk of meeting together. This was a radical act in the 1830’s and 40’s. Unfortunately, groups of women and men, of all races meeting together to discuss the important issues of today is still rare. My hope is that this blog is not simply about the project. I want it to be a clearing house of ideas, a place where Philadelphians can engage with each other and the world at large, about issue of justice, equality, and the redistribution of our nations wealth and resources to all citizens regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Visible Invisibility – The Place Philadelphia Journey

Photo credit:

There are eleven months remaining until the premiere of Place Philadelphia (working title) and theater artist Ain Gordon, and filmmaker Nadine Patterson have been working on and off for a year on the project.

Their journey has led them to research women reformers in early to mid nineteenth century. Ain had this to say regarding his research process:
“The visible invisibility of these women, the relatively scant position they hold in mainstream history is what draws me to them. In some cases we are trying to learn all there is - but in others, the ones that really draw me, you could say we are really ‘confirming their absence' in the historical record. However important these women's lives were they did not manage (by chance or by dint of their beliefs or because they were women) to leave behind the kind of artifacts or documents that mainstream history requires. In this way the historic record sometimes looses out on the true complexity of our past. As a mid-career artist facing my own self-history, these human ellipses speak to me at the top of their lungs.”

Currently Nadine and Ain are delving into the lives of women who struck out against the prevailing codes of thought, conduct, and behavior of their time, women who sought change through personal revolution. These are women who had the courage to relinquish their personal life for public necessity in bolstering the suffrage, anti-slavery and women’s rights movements.

During this process the questions are likely more important than the answers:

What did it take for a 19th century husband to be willing to live in the shadow of wives seeking to upend every code of conduct?

What makes a crusader?

What makes someone stand up?

What makes a wrong unbearable?

How does personal faith motivate public action?

Feel free to leave your responses in the comment section!