A waste of life | Art Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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A waste of life

Environmental and urban violence equate in Red, Black, and Green: a Blues

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A spoken-word artist and dancer, Marc Bamuthi Joseph created a hip-hop environmentalist campaign called Life Is Living and, starting in 2009, took it to four cities: New York, Houston, Oakland, and Chicago. As it happens, the campaign arrived here shortly after a bloody June weekend when at least 52 people were shot and eight killed. "In Life is Living we talked about how you can't go green until you hold respect for black life," Joseph says. "In Chicago we met a mother who'd left Darfur with her son. She left a place experiencing the worst genocide in African history, and her son was killed here in Chicago."

While traveling, Joseph gathered stories, poems, psalms, dances, and music that eventually became the raw material for his new performance piece, Red, Black, and Green: a Blues—a dialog around black life and environmental consciousness in America. The narrative unfolds in all four of the cities Life Is Living visited, and each city represents a different season.

Although Red, Black, and Green: a Blues began as Joseph's vision, it was developed as a collaboration between him and Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, who designed the set and performs. Throughout the piece, Joseph and Gates use music—everything from gospel to jazz and funk—to weave together stories of poor U.S. communities. Joseph describes Red, Black, and Green: a Blues as a "deeply textured approach to the human life cycle." It's also a celebration of black America.

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