Agitating, Provocative, and Beautiful: How a Dancer Found Movement in Silhouettes of the Past

High Museum of Art
Aug 8, 2019 · 3 min read

T. Lang brought her dancer’s eye to Kara Walker’s artwork at the High — and then pushed audiences to question their own perspectives.

By Eva Berlin, Digital Content Specialist, High Museum of Art

In the High’s Perspectives videos, we meet with creative Atlantans and explore how art informs their life and work. We watch them work in their own spaces, learn about their process, and discuss how they find inspiration from artworks and museums.

When T. Lang looks at Kara Walker’s The Jubilant Martyrs of Obsolescence and Ruin, she gets lost in the artist’s world and in her own complicated way of viewing the work.

“It was a little bit of unsettledness and unease of laughter and disgust…and then really respecting the technical elements of it, understanding that these are different codes in black and white that are mixing up multiple entendres of history and fantasy.”

Photo of T. Lang by Shivam Agarwal.

The newest installment in the High’s Perspectives video series features T. Lang, Atlanta-based dancer, choreographer, and artistic director of T. Lang Dance. She is also an associate professor and founding Department Chair of Spelman Dance at Spelman College.

This May, Lang created an original performance made in conversation with a Kara Walker artwork at the High Museum of Art.

The High Museum has worked with T. Lang Dance for close to a decade to highlight ways that movement can enhance the visual arts experience for audiences. The performances have been deeply rooted in the artwork, each bringing new connections and insights for audiences to delight in and puzzle over.

Lang’s 2019 performance, A Graveyard Duet of the Past Now, created dialogue through an Afrofuturist montage of dance, projection mapping technology, and a live audio score in this hopeful work that emphasizes healing. Through her work, Lang aims to “generate movement to affect souls and agitate, empower, and uplifts others.”

Kara Walker, The Jubilant Martyrs of Obsolescence and Ruin, 2015, cut paper on wall. In this work, the horrors of slavery and the brutality of the American Civil War are on display in a tangled tableau of clashing bodies.

Lang’s muse was Kara Walker’s The Jubilant Martyrs of Obsolescence and Ruina large-scale, cut paper installation that deals with complex issues of race in our country’s past and present. Looking at the work through her dancer’s eyes, Lang pulled from the bodies, gestures, and poses in Walker’s work, layered in her own responses, and set the performance into motion.

“You’re seeing the work with all of these coded messages and how you’re seeing it depends on the viewer and you have to tackle your own subconscious mind and what colonized your own imagination to even see what you’re seeing.”

T. Lang Dance’s “A Graveyard Duet of the Past Now” was performed at the High Museum of Art in May 2019. Photos by Shivam Agarwal.

Lang, along with a trio of dancers, created poetic movement landscapes, illustrating deep, rousing investigations into identity, historical narratives, and interdisciplinary creative practices.

Merging dance and technological innovation, Lang’s work articulates perspectives that capture the viewer through evocative physicality and emotional range.

T. Lang’s aim is that “we’re not entertaining but yet overwhelming the audience — their gaze, their senses — and that they go away and question and research and adjust or provoke.”

Watch the video at the top to learn more and see Lang’s creative process in action.

Although T. Lang’s special performances have concluded, Kara Walker’s work is still on view at the High (Wieland Pavilion, Skyway, Gallery 414). You can also unpack the work’s imagery in the High’s online Kara Walker interactive. Please be advised that the artwork contains graphic content, including violent and sexual imagery.

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