City Wide Open Studios (CWOS) Weekend at the Goffe Street Armory was not just for gigantic, interactive games and eclectic visual art. A “Literary Happy Hour” tour was also in the offing as spoken word, story telling and poetry performances occupied spaces in the Armory alongside sculptures, paintings and installations.
Fliers posted on army-green lockers at the Armory during CWOS last Sunday read: “Take a guided tour of the transformed Armory where you will experience 5 amazing local poets and writers, and dozens of local visual artists!”
The special Literary Happy Hour, curated and guided by Hanifa Nayo Washington, public engagement and communications director for CEIO and a singer-songwriter, lived up to its billing as five performers, painting with their words, conducted a literary blitz in various gallery locations throughout the Armory.
According to Washington, who recently took over the job of curator for Literary Happy Hour from Ifeanyi Awachie, the Armory tour was an extension of a performance series that began a year ago as a platform for “Diverse New Haven writers to present work, build a local following, and form a supportive, collaborative writing community.”
Held at different New Haven locations, the bimonthly event hosts poets, open mic performers, essayists, storytellers, rappers, stand-up comedians and independent writers emphasizing recognition of people of color and those “belonging to marginalized groups.”
As the Literary Happy Hour group assembled to begin its tour in the drill hall during the closing hours of Armory activities, many visual artists had shared their thoughts and visual comments in silent, but powerful ways over two days of the Armory CWOS Weekend.
In room 311, painter Shaunda-Sekai Holloway, who also writes poetry and is inspired by music and its lyrics, shared her visual musings about the nurturing bonds of family, and nature, which she considers a source of spirituality.
Holloway said that social justice issues that have emerged in cities like Flint and Baltimore, have compelled her recent concentration on painting. In her painting, “Giving Birth to Kings,” Holloway depicts a visage of Martin Luther King (bottom-center), and everyday people:
“People on the way to the bus top, at the grocery store, someone that might wait on me— and people I have never met.”
Holloway’s poems of inner life also resonate, as in this select stanza from her poem Muse:
To neon yellow
From deep blue
The terms are
You are my
It’s a traffic jam
At the intersection and ideas
Be Honking and beeping BEEEEEEEEEEEEP BEEEEEEEPBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP…”
Another poem, Working For The Dream. was published in issue 18 of the New Haven Review Journal.
On the pock-marked walls of one room, artist, theatrical director and project facilitator Peter Webster addressed issues of social justice and the toll of gun violence with an installation that included 56 quarts-worth of artificial blood — the amount of blood needed to the sustain 10 “Neighbors” represented by haunting outlines of people “who once were.”
Written on the room’s walls were gun violence statistics, a list of 29 comments about guns. Number 21: “A gun makes the whim to kill possible.” A closet emptied of all but a collection of “nude” hangers drove home a point about loss. “This is not about the 2nd amendment,” the artist wrote in a statement. “This is not about keeping guns away from people who love guns. This is a meditation on the toll that the senseless pieces of durable goods can take on human life because these pieces of durable goods are as easily accessed and passed around as a disease, like the common cold.”
A 9 mm replica handgun lay on the floor, benign in appearance, except in the surrounding context of statistics, and illustrated reminders of society’s continued failure to respond to the gun-enabled carnage.
More open-ended in its visual provocation, was a singular, wall-sized painting by Michael David Kozlowski, an artist based in Trumbull who cites American realist painter Edward Hopper as an early influence. Like Hopper, Kozlowski often includes solitary figures, human and animal, in his painted settings, evoking theatrical or dream-like imagery saturated with possibilities.
Kozlowski’s paintings reach a powerful synthesis of abstract and realist techniques as figures emerge or fade among the atmospheric effects created by drips, spatters, and scumbled passages. Lighting, always a major concern for Hopper, is also given strong consideration in Kozlowski’s paintings, albeit with a more dramatic agitation of light, suggestive of some works of English Romanticist landscape painter, William Turner.
Kozlowski said he constructs his works to “spark or catalyze a conversation between the viewer and the work which may lead some to a more full-fledged narrative, or just an idea or collection of ideas (like the concepts of transition or artifice vs reality), or for some, may be nothing more than a face-value moment in time.”
In rooms visited by the Literary Happy Hour tour, performers staged their presentations amid the work of visual artists to great effect. The tour started with the readings and insightful musings of writer Ony Obiocha performed in a dimly lit room. Another reading, held on an airy rooftop nook, provided an altar-like setting for writer Jae Garnes, his hands and feet covered in jet black charcoal as he read in even, but assertive tones. “Anytime I use a tree in my imagery, it is a representation or has some connection to my mother. Charcoal is burnt wood, so it’ s like I’m literally wearing my mother’s resolve within the context of my art” he explained later.
Storyteller Wendy Dalton Marans delivered an animated and humorous account of her childhood perceptions in wanting to grow up to become a waitress, and her idealized notions of smoking by glamorous stars and Royals, in her coming of age story aptly titled, “The Waitress.”
Hip Hop artist, poet, and animal rights activist Sky Raven The Vegan Poet (above), of Hartford County, surrounded by the wood sculptures of artist Michael Migani, delivered strong, confident messages, and in one piece, performed his take on the Star Spangled Banner challenging the notion that black people share in the song’s patriotic legacy.
The final stop on the Literary Happy Hour tour took place in a room of metal lockers that Washington conscripted as a part of her installation, filling each locker with sports and musical equipment, books, photos and bios of the five happy hour performers. Stage, movie, and television actor, Terrence Riggins, who regards himself a “social expressionist” delivered the longest of the evening’s performances; an impassioned reading delivered with Shakespearean eloquence, ending in a crescendo of sweat, spittle, and plaintiff cries for justice that found their mark.
Trays of Miya’s sushi were quickly consumed, as attendees tipped their glasses of wine at the close of the tour, and a very happy, literary end to another weekend of City Wide Open Studios.