Echoes: A Collaborative Abolitionist Curriculum Chapter One: Haunting
"Echoes: A Collaborative Abolitionist Curriculum in Four Chapters" was a collaboration from 2021 to 2022 between The Studio Museum in Harlem’s Department of Learning and Engagement and The Fortune Society’s Creative Arts program. Fortune Society is an organization that assists New Yorkers who have been formerly incarcerated through a range of reentry support services.
"Echoes" grew directly out of group conversations with Fortune community members and highlights their voices as well as the voices of formerly incarcerated individuals beyond Harlem. In a series of workshops held on Zoom and in person in Harlem over the course of six months, Studio Museum Artist Educator Jeannette Rodríguez Píneda led a multisensory curriculum that included art making, writing, and somatic practices.
Each workshop responded to artworks in the Studio Museum’s permanent collection, as well as literature, music, and archival materials, including the Thomas J Price: Witness exhibition in Marcus Garvey Park (October 2, 2021–October 1, 2022). Workshops concluded by collecting audio describing the produced work and the experience of production. The audio became the basis of musician Kwami Coleman’s soundscape.
Kwami Coleman's Artist Statement:
"Voices carry so much information: about the person, what they've seen, where they live, what they know. Voices tell personal histories and family histories; migrations, experiences lived, traumas survived, and dreams pursued. I love the voices of my communities; places where I spent my formative years in New York City, specifically Harlem and the Bronx, because they carry amazing stories and are their own kind of music. When talking to people where I grew up, younger and older folks, I pick up on a spectrum of tonal colors, grains and textures, vocal gestures and inflections, slangs, dialects, and turns of phrase. Each person is an orchestra unto themselves, and their stories are symphonies with words.
ECHOES / GESTURES / ABOLITION is a fifteen-minute sound collage—a composite of audio samples drawn from the Fortune Society's archive, original music created and played by myself, and an assortment of found sounds. I tried to further orchestrate an orchestra's worth of human voices with instrumental and electronic ones. I let the participants of the Fortune Society's program take the lead in telling their stories and looked for the common threads, echoes, metaphorical resonances. I also tried to find ways to uplift what the participants were saying. One common theme I found between stories was the drive and desire the participants shared toward abolition: from mental, physical, and emotional bondage, suffering, and pain. I dedicate this piece to the participants who have trusted me with their voices. Thank you for being so honest and so brave. I hope you hear yourselves in this."
Kwami Coleman, "Echoes I Gestures I Abolition" notebook view 3, Coleman's handwritten transcriptions of Fortune Society participants' audio recordings, 2022. Courtesy the artist