This coming Thursday, January 11th, BLACK VELVET: ARCHITECTURES AND ARCHETYPE is opening in the Theater at the 14th Street Y as part of the Season of OTHER. BLACK VELVET – Architectures and Archetypes is an original multidisciplinary performance art work created and premiered by Shamel Pitts, Mirelle Martins, and Lucca del Carlo in São Paulo, November 2016. This work researches and shares the sensibility of ideals, models, and textures as a projection of self. The dealing within these structures of systems is to discover what is inside of us, between us, and around us to hopefully bridge the distances so that we can see and meet each other. Some systems must be broken and re-imagined in order to reconstruct them. The work has been presented in Berlin, Israel, and Stockholm, and received AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARD at Stockholm Fringe Festival 2017.
Artists Shamel Pitts and Mirelle Martins sat down with me to discuss more about their process, their relationship to the 14th Street Y, and to give us insight into their work as artists.
What was the inspiration for BLACK VELVET?
Shamel: Black Velvet was born from the many conversations and dialogue between Mirelle and me. It felt as if from our first encounter in 2013, the work and content of Black Velvet started to brew. Mirelle and I drew closer due to our similarities, and even closer through the shared intrigue of our differences. Black Velvet is a texture of material. The title has to do with a nuanced research and sharing of the qualities between Mirelle and me as well as the relationship to the viewer. Black Velvet can be a very soft and delicate material, but also extremely powerful due to its ability to absorb light and how it reflects light.
Mirelle: The inspiration is our connection, that we felt so intense since the beginning. When we first met it was clear for me that, finally, I found someone that has the interest to express in a similar way to me. It’s difficult to explain what does it mean, but it was a feeling that I was not alone anymore searching for new things to do, but had found a life partner. This [relationship] is really strong now, and the aesthetic inspirations to do Black Velvet, I think, came from this initial feeling between us. Black Velvet is also my first dance work for the stage, so I feel like this work is a rebirth for me and makes me a dancer.
How does this show relate to the theme, OTHER?
Shamel: Mirelle and I are both African Americans, her being from Brazil and me being from Brooklyn. Yet, our experiences were different and are from different cultural and social codes of our upbringing. We both experienced ourselves as outsiders and minorities of our cultures, yet we also felt ourselves as outliers to all the boxes and titles that were assumed of us. What does it mean to be a black, and especially a black woman, or a black gay man? What space do we have in order to live fully without confining ourselves to the society’s identity’s crisis?
We created a world in Black Velvet where we can both exist and thrive as we take care of each other. The lines between masculinity, femininity, love, and color all seem to blur. We take care of each other and there becomes enough room for both of us to be, and this creates the oneness of our existence.
What is important to you as an artist?
Shamel: I am constantly engaged with James Baldwin’s words:
“The artist is distinguished from all other responsible actors in society by the fact that he is his own test tube, his own laboratory, working according to very rigorous rules, however unstated these may be, and cannot allow any consideration to supersede his responsibility to reveal all that he can possibly discover concerning the mystery of the human being.”
To reveal a possibility of discovery towards the mystery of us all is something that I find very compelling as an artist and as a human being in society. There are many ways to do this. Yet, we must listen, dig deep and authentically, and find our own test tube.
How has the 14Y impacted your process?
Shamel: Black Velvet is my second production at The 14th Street Y Theater (Black Box, which premiered last year, was my first)
It feels very exciting to bring my work back to the intimate and magical theater at 14th Y.
The artistic freedom, responsibility, and collaboration with the Y Team has been nourishing and sharpens my abilities to go further as an artist.
Also, after living over 7 years in Tel Aviv, Israel dancing with Batsheva Dance Company, it feels even more like home to come back to New York where I was born, and to be in an environment with an Israeli Cultural Flavor.
Learn more about BLACK VELVET: ARCHITECTURES AND ARCHETYPES*
*Performance includes some nudity and adult content