Dear Iola, Love, South LA
About Dear Iola, Love South LA
Iola Leroy (1892), Frances E.W. Harper
How does one write a “good, strong book” for one’s community? What does it mean to “gather materials” for such a ‘book’?
In 1892, Frances E. W. Harper, one of the first African American women to be published, writes Iola Leroy, a novel that documents the stories and feelings of Black families in slavery and freedom. The novel is titled after its protagonist, Iola, a beautiful mixed-race heroine whose identification with her Black family and community dramatizes the novel’s rejection of the concept of “racial passing.” The novel weaves her story among narratives of others, archiving scenes, conversations, songs and poems that draw from the cultural and political life of her time period.
Students read the novel in conversation with documents from the novel’s time period, from before Emancipation and right after, a tumultuous period of race relations in the US during the 19th century. In a robust guest speakers series, early African American studies and nineteenth-century studies scholars presented the world in which Harper lived and fought, guiding students such texts as: Thomas Jefferson’s Notes from a Virginian, excerpts from Frederick Douglass’ Narrative and other slave narratives, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, newspaper accounts, information wanted ads, even own Harper’s poetry that she incorporated into her novel. Students looked at the ways Harper crafted a novel that adapted popular story tropes while lifting up Black cultural infrastructure, addressing a wide range of people to accomplish multiple purposes: to create spaces for mourning and healing from slavery and the violence of the Reconstruction, to illuminate the strength of familial bonds, to build up communal self-love, to advocate for political agency, including suffrage and education, for women of color. Her characters challenged stereotypes, her poems remixed hymns and ballads, her scenes elevated Black speech and community conversations. She showed the secret languages and complex feelings of how a people survives and resists violence, she celebrated the reunification of the Black family.
In what ways can young artists do the same for South LA in 2020 through the medium of film? South LA communities are in the middle of an unfinished struggle for freedom: over-policing and surveillance, anti-immigration policy, poverty and disinvestment, environmental racism, gentrification and displacement, and now a global pandemic disproportionately afflicting Black and Latinx families. Yet the passion for an emancipated life and love for one’s people find form and expression. Contemporary experimental documentary filmmakers, like Sophia Nahli Allison in Love Song for Latasha, Malona Badelt in Historia de Mateo, Patrisse Cullors in Malcolm Revisited and the various filmmakers of Cinetracts 2020 are doing powerful work in the medium of film, sampling “materials” from the “field” of their environment to speak out their cinematic rallying cries. How might this rising generation of artist-activists, inspired by such anti-racist and social justice artworks create their own good strong (filmic) South LA book of 2020?
Website design: Josh Nelson
Graphics: Ochre Caceres
I would like to do something of lasting service
for the race.
- Iola Leroy
Drawing inspiration from the novel, contemporary documentary films of in our filmography and the process of making a literature-based filmic archive through a variety of methods (filmic sensing, sound sampling and curation, choreography, experimental re-enactment, screencapture, spoken word, animation, interview, spatial ethnography) students of LitLabs Core 2020-2021 conceived, developed and wrapped eight finished pieces within their filmmaker-collaboration teams. Beginning with an anchor text from the novel, each film narrates a particular story connecting literary and historical insights to issues, movements and collective desires of South LA residents in 2020. Sharing stories about precious South LA hubs under a pandemic, remembering an iconic skating rink, World on Wheels, as it faces permanent closure, speaking out against displacement and gentrification, exploring why #BLM is their fight-these are just some of the subjects students have taken on in eight short documentaries produced in the middle of lock-down.
The Archive (forthcoming)
Sophia Nahli Allison
Various, Wexler Center
Ana María Alvarez
Ana María Alvarez, a 2020 Doris Duke Artist, is a choreographer, dancer, teaching artist and movement activist who has achieved multiple accolades for her dynamic works. Her thesis work at UCLA, exploring the abstraction of Latin dance, specifically salsa dancing, as a way to express social resistance as related to the U.S. immigration battle became the impetus for founding CONTRA-TIEMPO Urban Latin Dance Theater in 2005 in Los Angeles. Her most recent work with the company, “joyUS justUS” (2017), is a radical celebration of humanity and the feminine and centers on the power of using joy to fight for a more loving and just world. Alvarez is currently a candidate working towards her Dunham Certification, in order to teach the technique and uphold the powerful legacy of Katherine Dunham. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.
d. Sabela grimes, a 2014 United States Artists Rockefeller Fellow, is a choreographer, writer, composer and educator whose interdisciplinary performance work and pedagogical approach reveal a vested interest in the physical and meta-physical efficacies of Afro-Diasporic cultural practices. Described by the Los Angeles Times as “the Los Angeles dance world’s best-kept secret” and as “one of a mere handful of artists who make up the vanguard of hip-hop fusion,” Grimes is considered one of the most imaginative and innovative artists in his field. His AfroFuturistic dance theater projects like World War WhatEver, 40 Acres & A Microchip, BulletProof Deli, and ELECTROGYNOUS, consider invisibilized histories and grapple with constructed notions of masculinity and manhood while conceiving a womynist consciousness. He created and continues to cultivate a movement system called Funkamentals that focuses on the methodical dance training and community building elements evident in Black vernacular and Street dance forms. Previously, Grimes co-authored and performed as a principal dancer in Rennie Harris Puremovement’s award-winning Rome & Jewels. He received a BA in English and MFA in dance and choreography from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Lili Flores Raygoza is an interdisciplinary and multimedia artist and researcher based in Tovaangar (Los Angeles, California). Currently–pursuing a Ph.D at UCLA Arts, within the department of World Arts and Cultures/ Dance, with a focus on Culture and Performance. As a first-generation Mexican-American– born and raised in West Los Angeles–much of her own identity informs her research interests in Mesoamerican archaeology, performance studies, pedagogy, corporeal-spatial studies and museum & curatorial studies. The driving force of her research and artistic practice is driven by storytelling as means of performing personal identity and mapping memories. Her work has been exhibited at The Hammer Museum, Trunk Gallery and the Pete & Susan Barrett Art Gallery. She has worked collaboratively on community based projects with Self-Help Graphics, TecnoLatinx, the Skirball Museum, the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and the Fowler Museum.
LitLabs & Its Partners
Situated in UCLA’s Department of Architecture and Urban Design,