(b. 1976, New Orleans; living and working in Harlem, Oakland, and Los Angeles)
Multimedia artist Rashaad Newsome’s wide-ranging practice includes collage, sculpture, film & video, animation, photography, music, writing, computer programming, software engineering, community organizing, and performance. Newsome’s interactive presentations use artificial intelligence as an access point through which audiences can join in celebrating radical Black and LGBTQ+ identities, performance styles, and theory. Integrating African spiritual and material aesthetics into his collage, sculpture, and hologram designs invites conversation about intercultural exchange and how African innovations spur technological development. Rashaad holds a 2023 honorary Doctorate Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Connecticut and a 2001 BFA in Art History from Tulane University. Recent exhibitions featuring Newsome’s work include Assembly (Park Avenue Armory Drill Hall, New York, 2022), Build or Destroy (Minnesota Street Project, San Francisco, 2022), In the Black Fantastic (Hayward Gallery, London, 2022), and To Be Real, Fort Mason Center for Art & Culture (San Francisco, 2020). He has received numerous awards, including the NEWFEST Emerging Black LGBTQ+ Filmmaker Award (New York, 2022), the Bessie Award for Outstanding Choreographer/Creator and Outstanding Visual Design (New York, 2022), the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica Award for Computer Animation (Linz, Austria, 2022), the Knight Arts + Tech Fellowship (Miami, Florida, 2021), a Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence artist residency (Stanford, California, 2020/2022, and the LACMA Art + Technology Lab Grant (Los Angeles, California, 2019).
WORK IN THE EXHIBITION
Multimedia artist Rashaad Newsome uses performance to explore and celebrate Black and LGBTQ+ identities and artistic styles. Through Black Magic, Newsome visualizes Black Queer resistance to systemic oppression through creativity, community, and joy as a style of “black magic,” while celebrating the joyous sensuality of ballroom culture, which traces its roots back to the Harlem drag ball scene of the late 1800s. This three-act film documents a live performance. It starts with a piece featuring trans women as performers and their crucial contributions to the vogue fem dance lexicon: hands, catwalk, floor performance, spin dips, and duck-walking. As the performers “pass the beat” to one another through performance, Newsome uses technology to render the visual of their “souls” passing from one to another. Through this visual rendition, Newsome depicts the actions of voguing and performance as both a form of empowerment and an expression of spirituality. This theme is continued in Act 2, with various prominent figures from the ballroom scene dancing in conversation with musicians. They manifest the alchemy symbol as they perform, signaling their ability to transform themselves and the world around them. Using self-made motion-tracking technology, Rashaad maps the movement patterns of dancers during the live performances and translates the collected data into digital neoactionist drawings in real-time on a screen above the stage and in the video documentation of the performance.
The auditory component of the film is fittingly complex. Newsome uses two Nintendo Wiis to play and manipulate an original score amalgamated from several live performances including gospel music, Gregorian chants, electronic and acoustic music, and opera. Newsome combines contemporary ballroom and historic spiritual music, augmenting the visual interaction between these two cultures on display. On top of the film’s score, a vogue MC performs a voiceover, providing hypnotic spoken lyrics celebrating the expressive performance of femininity in all shapes and sizes unfolding on stage. In combination, these auditory elements immerse viewers into the spirituality and sensuality of femininity and performance in ballroom culture.