Instead of writing a play to represent the challenges facing black artists, Durham artist Monét Noelle Marshall chose to craft an entire experience.
Marshall transformed VAE Raleigh in downtown Raleigh into the set of her interactive show “Buy My Soul and Call It Art.” She brought it to life with the help of a team of Triangle artists on May 19 and 20.
Handed wads of play money at the start of the show, visitors must answer the question, “What is black art worth to you?” as they encounter black dancers, creators, artists and more. Visitors can use their pretend cash to support the artists, but they soon realize the system isn’t benefiting the people that they thought it did.
“This piece is me saying out loud that I see the system,” Marshall said. “I’m not fooled, and I know that a lot of it is harmful.”
“Buy My Soul and Call It Art” is the first piece in Marshall’s “Buy It Call It” trilogy and premiered in January at Durham’s Living Arts Collective. The next installment, “Buy My Body and Call It a Ticket,” runs June 8 to 16 at The Fruit in Durham.
A carnival theme sets the scene for this show that asks, “What price are you paying for your body? What would you admit to be free?”
“It is me letting go of my shame about myself,” Marshall said. “There’s nothing anybody can say about me if I’m like, ‘Here’s who I am. Here’s what I am. You can’t use me against me.’ That feels incredibly scary but also really liberating.”
The final part of Marshall’s trilogy, “Buy My Art and Call It Holy,” is scheduled for December.
Marshall is a familiar face to many in the Triangle arts community. She has been active in the Durham companies Manbites Dog Theater — which is producing it’s final season — and the now closed Common Ground Theatre. She’s currently running her own brainchild, MOJOAA Performing Arts Company. Interactive performances are nothing new for Marshall — MOJOAA got attention for its show “Escape to Freedom” in which “actors guide and thwart audiences as they try to escape antebellum slave life.”
Kyma Lassiter assisted with the Durham and Raleigh showings of “Buy My Soul and Call It Art.” She played a tour guide who took spectators from artist to artist.
“People get to examine worth in general,” Lassiter said. “Self-worth, the worth of art, the worth of black art. … The importance of supporting artists in their own spaces and not putting their own views on what the artists [are] trying to display.”
The show has had an impact in her own life, she added.
“It made me realize my own self-worth,” Lassiter said. “I am a theater artist in the area, and it made me own up to some things that I have been doing to myself in not honoring the work. It made me truly appreciate the work and understand the worth that not only I have as an artist but that I have as a human.”
Gina Rogers attended “Buy My Soul and Call It Art” on May 19. The show called her attention to “the silent tension that is unspoken between the races,” she said.
During the interactive experience, a white auctioneer gets the visitors to bid on a piece of art held up by the black artist who created it. The way Marshall set the scene, it’s hard to miss that she’s evoking a slave auction as the auctioneer in a white suit soapboxes about “investing” in the young black artist, who’s wearing nothing but a leotard and standing on a block.
Rogers won the auction, but after being handed the art she had to dip her thumb in ink and leave a mark on the leg of the artist who had created the piece. The ink also stained her play money and the art itself, leaving Rogers with a lot of ideas to chew on.
“The idea around me purchasing this picture is about this idea of reclamation and contributing to spaces that support black art,” Rogers said. “That was the original intent, so to give the money felt like it was just a thing you do. But to put my thumb on that stamp and then put it on a human, it was emotional.”
“Buy My Body and Call It a Ticket” by Monét Marshall
When: Friday, June 8, to Saturday, June 16
Where: The Fruit, 305 South Dillard Street, Durham
More info: Learn more here.
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