Center for African American Poetry and Poetics hosts “Black Ecstatic” panel and showcase


Sarah Cutshall | Staff Photographer

New Orleans native and poet Rickey Laurentiis spoke about the art presented at “The Black Ecstatic: An Evening of Poetry & Film,” which was organized by the Center for African American Poetry & Poetics and The Andy Warhol Museum.

By Dylan Giacobbe, For the Pitt News

Rickey Laurentiis — a poet from New Orleans currently serving as the inaugural fellow of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics — took the stage at the Frick Fine Arts building on Thursday night and made clear what they came to see.

“I wanted to see how a black filmmaker argues her body into a visual canon, I wanted to hear how language exposes its own beautiful limit vis-a-vis the painting,” Laurentiis, who prefers a mixture of they and he pronouns, said.

Laurentiis was the moderator of “The Black Ecstatic: An Evening of Poetry & Film,” an artistic exhibition and panel hosted by the CAAPP. The event featured poetry from esteemed black poets and a presentation of films from black artists. The art presented focused specifically on aspects of sexuality, race and gender identity in the African American community.

University of Pittsburgh English professor and director of CAAPP Dawn Lundy Martin opened the event by explaining that the event was put together by CAAPP in conjunction with The Andy Warhol Museum.

In conjunction with Thursday’s event at Frick Fine Arts, The Warhol museum is displaying the art of Devan Shimoyama in an exhibition called “Cry, Baby” until March 17. An accompanying video showcased his art and vision at the beginning of the event.

The audience of more than 50 people was composed of a diverse mix of races and ages. The atmosphere of the event was meant to allow the free expression of emotions, according to Laurentiis.

“As we move together in this exploration of the visual, of the poetic and the ecstatic, be ecstatic. Allow yourselves to go there,” Laurentiis said. “If you hear words that make you clap, clap. If you feel a line that says to you hum, go ahead and hum … Rip off any gags from your mouth and be present with us tonight.”

Laurentiis began their speech by discussing the purpose of the event and by defining “black ecstatic,” in the context of the self-portrait of the 17th-century artist Artemisia Gentileschi. Gentileschi had painted herself according to the stipulations of fellow painter Cesare Ripa, who suggested that virtues and abstract concepts should be conveyed through human features and traits. Ripa said the abstract concept of “painting” should be shown as a woman with several specific traits, including having her “mouth covered with a cloth tied behind her ears.” Gentileschi followed Ripa’s prescription accurately for her self-portrait; save for the covering her mouth with a cloth.

“The black ecstatic is the gag coming off,” Laurentiis said.

Laurentiis introduced each of the guest speakers who would be presenting by quoting their poetry and explaining the value of their art. The featured poets Safiya Sinclair, a Ph.D. candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California, Roger Reeves, an associate professor of English at the University of Texas, and Airea D. Matthews, an assistant professor at Bryn Mawr College, all presented onstage during the event.

Each read poems from their books and provided a preface to each of their poems before reading them, explaining why or how they wrote them and why they were reading them for the audience.

After the poetry readings, Fatima Jamal, an artist and writer working in Brooklyn, presented a brief look at her documentary film, “No Fats, No Femmes,” which is about the intersection of fatness and femininity. Jamal has had her work featured in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, and was named one of the “coolest queers on the internet” by Teen Vogue.

“I want to explore this idea of no fats, no femmes. This work moves through things like identity, sexuality, religion, gender and really exploring self-creation and world-making,” Jamal said.

Jamal’s film explores her gender identity as a trans woman, showing scenes of her participation in an LGBTQ+ pride parade taking pictures with fans, dancing and having conversations with people there. It also highlighted her perseverance and pride in herself and her body, despite the adversity she might face as a black trans woman.

After the event’s conclusion, the poets sat at a table to sell and sign their poetry books and have conversations with the attendees.

Julia Kisslinger, first-year engineering major, said hearing the poems read by their authors presented her with a new experience.

“You sit back and you hear the stories instead of just reading it and creating it for yourself. You get a richer experience,” Kisslinger said.

She also explained how at the intersection of traditional art and poetry, words can be just as effective of an art form as paintings.

“You hear a picture’s worth a thousand words, but words are nothing if not spoken with the intent behind them,” Kisslinger said.

Sophomore bioengineering major Ankith Rao echoed Kisslinger’s appreciation for the live reading of the poems.

“You can’t really replicate that because you’re not the poet, and when the actual author reads the words they kind of just come to life,” Rao said.

First-year engineering major Carson Sanov said even though he had no expectations coming into the event, he walked away surprised at the depth of the poetry presented.

“When I was listening, I thought it was really interesting how intensely personal some of these pieces could be,” Sanov said.

Though each artist pulled from their personal experience in their work, Laurentiis summarized for the audience how the artists’ works were linked and why they were important.

“What all these artists share is an attention to the black flesh,” Laurentiis said. “They employ the deranging work of the black ecstatic and remind us of how within a black body … there is yet power.”


Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Fatima Jamal’s preferred name, as well as Laurentiis’ preferred pronoun mixture of they and he.