Ariel René Jackson’s film installation “A Welcoming Place” is essential viewing for anybody living in Austin.
Currently the center of Jackson’s solo exhibition at Women & Their Work, the 30-minute film is screened in a loop, a blend of narratives culled from conversations with six Black and Brown Austinites, all of whom are artists. Some — including artist Deborah Roberts and photographer Cindy Elizabeth — are native Austinites. John Yancey, muralist, associate dean and professor of studio art the University of Texas, has lived in East Austin since the early 1990s. Choreographer Michael J. Love was Jackson’s co-winner and collaborator on the recent Tito’s Prize exhibition at Big Medium.
The conversations unfold as advice for Black and Brown newcomers to Austin, a city still reckoning with its racist past, never mind its gentrified present. Jackson’s project pays homage to the oral traditions of marginalized groups as collective memory of a place is passed on.
“A Welcoming Place” is on view through March 3. Currently, visits are available by appointment due to omicron variant concerns. Admission to Women & Their Work is always free.
And beginning Feb. 1, “A Welcoming Place” will screen for 24 hours online as a lead-up to a virtual discussion at 6 p.m. Feb. 2 with Jackson and three of the films participants. You can watch the free live stream on the Women & Their Work website: womenandtheirwork.org/
Jackson appears as a proxy figure throughout her film, holding a black weather balloon as she moves through outside spaces in East Austin like the historic Yellow Jacket Stadium, built in 1953 for the all-Black public high school within then-segregated Austin school district. Jackson and the big balloon embody a meteorological metaphor i.e., taking the temperature of a place.
We never see the interviewees, but their stories resonate.
Both Roberts and Elizabeth recall their experiences of being displaced from the familiarity and safety of all-Black schools and bussed to white schools in the name of integration. Elizabeth speaks of seeing familiar places — including the public hospital in which she was born — erased from the Austin landscape.
Yancey reflects on creating “Rhapsody” in 2003, a large mosaic mural depicting Black Austin musicians. “Rhapsody” stands along a stretch of East 11th St. where Black-owned nightclubs once formed a Black entertainment district within a segregated Austin. The mural was part of a municipal revitalization effort, and Yancey recalls thinking at the time that whatever revitalization was happening would invariably lead to gentrification and erasure of the Black neighborhood and its culture. He was right.
An astute historian, Jackson offers visuals, archival footage and re-animations that highlight the locations around Austin where Freedman communities once stood before the 1928 city plan that forced most the Black population to East Austin. And re-animations of archival footage of weather balloon systems reinforce Jackson metaphor of forecastiing.
Jackson also reads “A letter to the Black tradition of forecasting,” a poem written during a residency in Bentonville, Arkansas, where the artist noticed similar anti-Black narratives embedded in the cityscape, most notably a Confederate statue in a prominent square.
Jackson plans to make each interview available in full as a podcast towards the end of exhibition. Like “A Welcoming Place” that podcast will undoubtedly be necessary listening.
“A Welcoming Place” continues through March 3 at Women & Their Work, 1311 E. Cesar Chavez St. The 30-minute will film will screen continuously for 24 hours beginning Feb. 1 at the Women & Their Work website: womenandtheirwork.org/. On Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. Ariel René Jackson will be in discussion with Michael J. Love, Vladimir Mejia, and John Yancey. The online talk is free. Register for the link at womenandtheirwork.org/upcoming/talkaboutawelcomingplace/