Since 2006, Newsome has been investigating the gestural language of African-American women, whose expressive spontaneity turns the body into a vehicle for feelings and emotions. Working to overturn the common stigmatization of such language as a ghetto phenomenon and sign of the social decay produced by low literacy and marginalization, Newsome has taken an anthropological approach, trying to show the cultural dignity of African-American gestural mannerisms. Who does this language really belong to? How has it developed over time, and what are its geographic boundaries? These questions have opened the artist’s theoretical horizons of research and turned it into a complex investigation of issues of belonging and cultural diversity.
The first personal show of the American artist within a European institution is focused on the presentation of the performance Shade Compositions. The expressiveness of the African-American women presented in its spontaneous form by Shade Compositions becomes a linguistic symphony, a choral work based on connective rhythm which unifies and transcends the singularity of individual gestures with an energy that resembles the fluidity of song.
As a result of a research process developed by the artist since 2006 in Paris with several African-French women, Newsome has shown in New York in 2009 the most current and complex version of Shade Compositions. Staged as a collaboration with over twenty African-American women, the performance shows the natural character of their gestures and vocalizations inside a musical score arranged by the artist. Organized into five intercut sections, the performance resembles a composition for classical orchestra. Its expressive coherence is given by the fluidity of the linguistic and gestural patterns performed by the young female participants, such as finger snapping, lip smacking, huffing and puffing, head swiveling, and sassy vocalizations.
As well as the video of the New York performance, which has become an autonomous work, the shows presents Shade Compositions (Screen Tests 1-2), two video works which present part of the casting by the artist, with a great number of young women, in order to study their expressive language. Articulated as exercises, attempts and repetitions, the Screen Tests constitute a rich video archive accumulated by Newsome over several years of research in Europe and the United States.
Newsome’s most recent project, Five (2010), also investigates a marginalized linguistic form found in the African-American culture of expression. This is Voguing, a dance style that emerged in the Seventies and Eighties in gay and lesbian dance clubs. Vogue dance is a type of street dance: free and creative, yet at the same time complex and sophisticated, it is closely tied to other forms of modern dance. As in Shade Compositions, Newsome is interested in exploring the evolution and cultural significance of the communicative model of Voguing. Five is also a multimedia live performance structured around the five primary movements used in vogue, composed of the rotations and fluctuations performed by the dancers.
Untitled (2008) and Untitled (New Way) 2009 show Newsome’s intention to repurpose the seminal aesthetics of original Voguing, as it is preserved in traditions of African-American street life, between free improvisation and the fluidity of expressive gestures.