Anna Meyer and Jay Paris are firm believers in the power of art to inspire change.
“Art unites, it makes us all connect on an emotional level, and that’s how change happens,” Mr. Parris said in a phone interview with the Gazette.
This belief led the pair to create Beheard.world in Boston in 2011. After separate careers at the intersection of art and activism, the pair launched the nonprofit, which uses filmmaking and live performance as a way to achieve social justice. Last week Ms Meyer and Mr Parris brought a group of 11 artists to the Island for a film screening and presentation of their work.
Beheard.world is working on a rehearsal before the show on Saturday. — Jeanne Shepherd
“There’s white and black culture here, which is interesting, and we like to have a mixed audience,” Ms. Meyer said of why they’re drawn to the Island.
The group is composed of dancers, poets and singers. They have day jobs outside of Beheard, but they make time for the company because they care deeply about its mission, Mr. Paris said.
“They can dance in almost any company in New England if they want, but I think they choose this one because of the work we do. They are all deeply concerned about this,” Mr Parris said.
On Thursday night at the Tabernacle, the band hosted a screening of Invisible Imprints, a documentary by Mr. Parris that follows the band as it plays a series of shows beginning in Jackson, Miss., and ending in Chicago. The film explores America’s racial history and provides insight into the performers’ struggles with identity and race, Mr. Parris said.
Singer and Songwriter, Preacha Rhymes. — Jeanne Shepherd
“They were meeting with civil rights leaders whose history wasn’t very well known and going to civil rights sites, museums and then, of course, performing,” Mr. Parris said. “I really saw it all through the eyes of these performers.”
On Saturday night at Union Chapel, the band performed Suite Talk, a collection of dance, music and spoken word that explores the ways race plays out in American society.
Charles Murrell opened the performance by walking around the perimeter of the chapel and playing a solemn rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 on the saxophone. Mr. Murrell welcomes everyone and informs the audience that the performance comes after “the craziest week of his life.” Mr. Murrell was attacked by members of the white supremacist hate group Patriot Front during that group’s march through downtown Boston a few days before the Fourth of July.
Mr. Murrell, who suffered cuts to his arm and head from the attack that required stitches, said he was grateful to be surrounded by love and fellow artists, whom he calls family, as he heals from the trauma.
Two days before July 4th, Charles Murrell was attacked in Boston by the racist white supremacist group, the Patriotic Front. — Jeanne Shepherd
“All it really takes is one person to change the way you see something you’re going through or how you think about what you might be going through,” Mr Murrell said at the performance.
Mr. Murrell’s focus on healing rather than retribution also speaks to the company’s mission, Mr. Parris said.
“For a man like this who can be so angry about all this, [to say] what I’m really interested in is how we come together,” Mr Parris said. “Big bow to Charles, but I think that’s the ethos of the company.”
The show directly confronts racism in America. The dance contains images of lynching and some of the poetry is about police brutality. But there is also an intimate duet. Another dance is set to a remix of This Land is Your Land. The goal is to show that America is complicated, which means loving America is complicated, Ms. Meyer said.
“There’s a lot of violence going on…then there’s this love duet that’s about the intimacy of love and how we take care of each other,” Ms. Meyer said. “And then there’s ‘This land is your land…it’s an old folk song, but it’s everybody’s land…everyone belongs here.’
After the performance, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions and share their reactions. Audience members asked about some of the technical solutions and also expressed how thorough they found the show.
“Our real goal with these things is to get people to feel and then talk,” Ms. Meyer said. “If you don’t make people feel, they stay in their heads instead of speaking from their hearts.”
To learn more about the organization and its mission, visit beheard.world.