Back to All Events

Weeksville Heritage Center & Vera List Center for Art and Politics Present: Seminar No. 5 of Freedom of Speech: A Curriculum for Studies Into Darkness

  • Weeksville Heritage Center 158 Buffalo Avenue Brooklyn United States (map)

Seminar 5 of Freedom of Speech: A Curriculum for Studies Into Darkness

A Time For Seditious Speech

Free speech for African Americans has always been affected by space. These spaces being socially produced, operating between people, groups, and institutions. The Free Black press in the early 19th century created a national space that promoted a radical new order for society, as articulated at the Colored Conventions, where already free and once captive Black people came together between 1830 and the 1890s to strategize about political, social, and legal justice. At one such convention, in 1843 in Buffalo, New York, the Reverend Henry Highland Garnet delivered an inspirational speech that shocked the delegates to the convention. Later referred to as the Call to Rebellion speech, Garnet asked his brothers to turn against their masters, affirming that "neither god, nor angels, or just men, command you to suffer for a single moment. Therefore it is your solemn and imperative duty to use every means, both moral, intellectual, and physical that promises success." The speech entreated enslaved Africans in the south to secure liberty through resistance.

As part of the year-long seminar series Freedom of Speech: Curriculum for Studies into Darkness, A Time for Seditious Speech proposes speech as a call to direct action, perhaps even violence.

The event will begin with a performative reading of Garnett’s Call to Rebellion professional and student actors enacting portions of the text against the background of the gardens and Hunterfly Homes. Following this a performative walk-through, historian and writer Kazembe Balagun will moderate a conversation with curator and historian Prithi Kanakemdala and media and technology lawyer Nabiha Syed to examine the relationship between the first amendment, race, and place. Balagun will then invite artists Michael Rakowitz and Dread Scott to make presentations both of whom have engaged in cultural boycotts as a strategy that calls for engagement of a different kind. Scott is currently developing the restaging the largest slave revolt in American history, the German Coast from 1811 in New Orleans. A group discussion will follow.

Inspired by a more recent slave rebellion -- Denmark Vesey’s thwarted slave uprising in 1822 in Charleston, South Carolina – Garnet employed the societal mores enmeshed in the “peculiar institution of slavery” in his rebellious rhetorics, thus subverting their power and practicing free speech to expand our ideas of citizenship and create equitable spaces for people of color. Set at Weeksville, one of the first intentional communities of free Black people in New York, A Time for Seditious Speech will engage participants through immersive performance and dialogue around Garnet’s oratorical missive and raise questions that continue to dominate the national discourse.


Kazembe Balagun is a cultural historian, activist, writer, youngest son of Ben and Millie, and originally from Harlem, New York. From 2008 to 2013, he served as Director of Outreach and Education at the Brecht Forum in New York, where he helped bring together performance art, LGBT history, film, and jazz with Marxism and the Black Radical Tradition. He is a frequent contributor to the Indypendent, where he published the last interview of Octavia Butler (included in Consuela Francis’ Conversations with Octavia Butlers, University Press of Mississippi). Most recently, Finally Got the News: The Printed Legacy of the Radical Left (Common Notions) published Balagun’s essay on art and people of color communist collectives. He was a member of the Red Channels Film Collective and has presented at Metrograph, Brooklyn Academy of Art, Brooklyn Public Library, Woodbine, and Maysles Cinema. He serves as a project manager with the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York and is working on a project looking at uncovering the history of the Black Commune.

Rob Fields is the President & Executive Director of Weeksville Heritage Center, a Brooklyn-based arts and culture center built on the historic site of one of the largest free black communities in pre-Civil War America. Prior to Weeksville, Fields was the marketing director for CMO Initiatives at the Association of National Advertisers, a marketing industry trade association. Over his career in marketing, he has worked for brands such as IBM, Burger King, Panasonic, and General Motors, and for arts and culture organizations such as the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI), the Black Rock Coalition, and the Urbanworld Film Festival. Fields has been a longtime proponent of progressive, left-of-center global black culture, which he highlighted through Bold As Love, an online magazine he actively published from 2007 to 2017.His writing has appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, The Root, The Grio, and PSFK, to name a few.

Prithi Kanakamedala is a historian and curator based in Brooklyn, New York. She is an Assistant Professor in the History Department at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. Her research interests include New York’s free black communities in the antebellum period, the history of New York City, and material culture of the Black Atlantic with a public history focus. 

Michael Rakowitz is an artist living and working in Chicago. His work has appeared in venues worldwide including dOCUMENTA (13), P.S.1, MoMA, MassMOCA, Castello di Rivoli, the 16th Biennale of Sydney, the 10th and 14th Istanbul Biennials, Sharjah Biennial 8, Tirana Biennale, National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt, and Transmediale 05. He has had solo projects and exhibitions with Creative Time, Tate Modern in London, MCA Chicago, Jane Lombard Gallery in New York, Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago and Kunstraum Innsbruck. He is the recipient of the 2018 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts; a 2012 Tiffany Foundation Award; a 2008 Creative Capital Grant; a Sharjah Biennial Jury Award; a 2006 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Grant in Architecture and Environmental Structures; the 2003 Dena Foundation Award, and the 2002 Design 21 Grand Prix from UNESCO. He was awarded the Fourth Plinth commission in London’s Trafalgar Square,on view through 2020. A traveling survey of his work will be shown at Whitechapel Gallery in London and Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Torino in 2019. Rakowitz is Professor of Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University. 

Dread Scott makes revolutionary art to propel history forward. His work is exhibited across the U.S. and internationally. For three decades he has made work that encourages viewers to re-examine unifying ideals and values of American society. In 1989, the entire U.S. Senate denounced and outlawed one of his artworks and President G.H.W. Bush declared it “disgraceful” because of its transgressive use of the American flag. His art has been exhibited or performed at the Whitney Museum, MoMA/PS1, the Walker Art Center and galleries and street corners across the country. His works can be hard-edged and poignant. Dread plays with fire—metaphorically and sometimes literally—as when he burned $171 on Wall Street and encouraged those with money to burn to add theirs to the pyre. 

Nabiha Syed is an American media and technology lawyer. She has been described as "one of the best emerging free speech lawyers" by Forbes magazine. Nabiha’s work has included successfully defending BuzzFeed’s publication of the Steele Dossier; representing asylum-seekers in south Texas; presenting on online misinformation at the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit; fighting for public access to NYPD disciplinary proceedings and hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and serving as the First Amendment Fellow at The New York Times. A Marshall Scholar, Syed also co-founded the Media Freedom and Information Access legal clinic at Yale Law School, of which she is a graduate and a visiting fellow. Starting in June, Nabiha will be the General Counsel of The Markup, an investigative journalism publication that focuses on the ethics and impact of technology on society.

Jeremiah Hosea is a dynamic and experienced New York-based bassist, vocalist and producer who thrives on creation and collaboration. His approach to music is as a universal form of communication through which he strives to build as diverse and meaningful a career as possible. Drawing deeply on his familial roots, his experience as a bassist and his radical political convictions, Hosea founded Earthdriver the Mothership band in 1999 and the progeny of that project became (an artist and activist collective/record label dedicated to showcasing and facilitating socially relevant, diverse musical acts)

The seminar series Freedom of Speech. A Curriculum for Studies into Darkness is organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics as part of the center's 2018–2020 curatorial focus If Art Is Politics. It is directed by Carin Kuoni, Director/Chief Curator, Vera List Center, and Laura Raicovich with assistance by Gabriela López Dena. Partner organizations for the seminars are ARTICLE 19the National Coalition Against CensorshipNew York Peace Institute; and Weeksville Heritage Center.

Seminar 5 is co-curated by The Vera List Center for Art and Politics and Weeksville Heritage Center.