How do you celebrate a historical moment such as the inauguration of Kamala Harris? American producer Codie Elaine Oliver has partnered with several renowned artists for “When We Gather”, a collaborative art initiative that hopes to inspire reflection and celebration on the achievements of the vice president-elect in a time of great divide in the United States.
This multifaceted project is launched by artists María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Okwui Okpokwasili, and LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs to inspire reflection and celebration on this epoch-making day in United States history. It features a three-minute art film in which director Codie Elaine Oliver (“Black Love”) pays homage to “heroines of the past, visionaries of the present and leaders of the future.”
The aforementioned artists as well as Dell Marie Hamilton, Jana Harper, Lisa E. Harris, and Samita Sinha perform in “When We Gather”. Academy Award-nominated actress Alfre Woodard narrated the short film, whose soundscape incorporates both lyrics and a poem written by Diggs for the project.
“When We Gather” also features choreographed movements and gestures from diverse traditions, which evoke storms, spirals and ancestral energy. “The circle shows us how we can remain connected even while we are separated due to this pandemic or due to the state of the nation. All of these factors have informed the collaborative choreography and spoken word of this global collective experience,” says Campos-Pons, who envisioned the project and brought the artists together.
The film is broadcasted on a dedicated website on January 20 at 7 pm EST, the day when Kamala Harris is sworn in as the first female vice president of the United States. It will be followed by “When We Gather: Together”, a behind-the-scenes interactive program hosted by Dr. Nikki A. Greene. The hour-long event, available online from January 20 through February 15, will feature a conversation about the film, interviews with those involved in it, as well as additional performances that contextualize themes like “heal, unite, create.”
“Harris claimed this moment for ‘the generations of women — Black women, Asian, White, Latina, and Native American women throughout our nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment.’ She called on us all: mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, girls; cis and trans, to celebrate with her. ‘When We Gather’ is our collective answer to her invitation,” explain the participating artists.
The magazine cover of contention
While several projects have paid homage to Kamala Harris ahead of her inauguration, Vogue’s February cover depicting the vice president-elect has sparked controversy. One of the photographs, shot by Tyler Mitchell, shows Harris wearing Converse sneakers in front of a glossy pink silk drape — a setting deemed too casual for several fashion critics. Robin Givhan, senior critic at the Washington Post, wrote that the image “did not give Kamala Harris due respect. It was overly familiar … Vogue overstepped. It got too chummy too fast.”
As the controversy grew, Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour responded to online accusations in a statement to the New York Times. “Obviously we have heard and understood the reaction to the print cover and I just want to reiterate that it was absolutely not our intention to, in any way, diminish the importance of the vice-president-elect’s incredible victory,” she stated.
(Main and featured image: When We Gather and Tommy Oliver)