Art Doc of the Week | Baltimore Dance Project

Ishmael Reed, novelist, scholar and social critic, witheringly dismissed the critically acclaimed, massively popular HBO show “The Wire” as a tapestry of hoary racial clichés pass off as truthfulness, and has repeatedly (and brilliantly) enumerated his issues with the show. The Black Baltimore it shows isn’t just defined by and largely limited to criminality, but is tethered to limitations of the white imagination – and aesthetics – when it comes to tackling the realities of Black life. One of the reasons young Baltimore photographer Devin Allen’s work is so powerful is because he takes the surfaces of Black life that many non-Black people (even, if not especially, well-meaning white liberals) fixate on, and artfully dismantles preconception to reveal layers and nuances that rarely get their due. The same kinds of bodies that populate “The Wire” are granted complex complexity in Allen’s work.

In many way, FKA Twigs’ documentary Baltimore Dance Project is in dialogue with Allen’s still photography. Filmed in mid-July after Twigs sent out a Tweet that she was hosting a free dance workshop in Baltimore the next day, the British singer/dancer/songwriter/performance artist didn’t want to go to Los Angeles or New York. She wanted the energy of Baltimore, to immerse herself in the people and culture of a city that is vibrant and affirming, and deeply misunderstood.

As the workshop kicks off, she makes it clear that the gathering is a “safe space,” and regardless of your age, size, abilities or whatever, you won’t be judged or mocked. Even though the gathering was filmed long before the election, her words about the anxieties and fears circulating thickly around us, filling the air we breathe, are even more potent right now.  Her belief in the power of art to transcend divisions and bring about social change are age-old, almost textbook public speak for artists, and it will be powerfully tested in the next few years.

It’s a thrill to see so many dark-skinned Black women in the mix, celebrated and elevated in ways both mainstream pop and mainstream hip-hop refuse to do – refuse, in fact, as they erase and even demonize dark skin Black women. It’s refreshing to see queerness organically in the mix of everyday Blackness, just as it is in ordinary Black life. The crowd is actually multiracial, though predominantly Black, and the film becomes a de facto celebration of Black creativity and beauty, which is exactly why it taps into the universal.

The short B&W clip, crisply and beautifully filmed, is more PSA than anything else. It doesn’t probe or ask profound political questions, though it can’t help but run smack into them even unintentionally or by sideways glance rather than direct stare, and it is rooted firmly, unapologetically, and simply in the desire to inspire. And that’s cool. Watch the documentary here.

All images courtesy WeTransferStudios.