A Note from Strathmore’s Artistic Director, Joi Brown:
A force of nature can change the shape of the world. Think of the power of the ocean and its ability to shape the shoreline; the heat from the earth’s core and the way it erupts to transform the landscape; the pressure of the tectonic plates that shakes our foundation. Monuments: Creative Forces celebrates six artists who embody this force of nature, and whose past, current, or ongoing work is changing the shape of our community in fundamental and essential ways. We are proud to highlight both established artists who have consistently harnessed their creative platform to address social imperatives, and emerging artists who are speaking truth to power through their work.
Be Steadwell is a triple threat—musician, filmmaker, and storyteller. An alum of Strathmore’s Artist in Residence program, Steadwell strives to make other black girls, queers, introverts, and—as she puts it—“generally marginalized weirdos” feel seen and loved. Her work is deeply personal and relevant, resonating with current conversations surrounding race and LGBTQ issues. Steadwell’s unapologetically queer identity and bold, uncensored exploration of complex intimate relationships make her a force of nature.
After receiving a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College, Steadwell completed her Master of Fine Arts in film at Howard University in 2014. Her film Vow of Silence, a self-described “magical musical queer fairytale” was featured in film festivals around the world.
Steadwell has branded her music “queer pop,” but it grooves with jazz undertones and R&B hooks. Her lyrical storytelling is equally provocative and endearing, filled with humor, hurt, and raw emotion. On stage, she utilizes looping, vocal layering, and beatboxing to craft compositions live.
Steadwell has shared stages with fellow artist/activists Big Freedia, Nona Hendryx, Nikky Finney, and Gina Yashere. In her latest work, A Letter to My Ex, The Musical, Steadwell tells stories of love, loss, and intimacy through a collage of music, movement, and film—narrating one character’s journey through the year following a breakup.
Thankfully to so many who feel on the fringes or marginalized, Be Steadwell unabashedly celebrates being oneself! Creating work that is deeply personal and laser sharp in its relevance to the current conversations around race and LGBTQ issues, Be’s music and creative work leads us in essential explorations of individuality and acceptance.
Piano Peace Maker
Daryl Davis is a great musician; he’s performed with Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, and Elvis Presley’s Jordanaires. While that’s enough to be a highlight of anyone’s life, it’s Davis’ work as a race reconciliator that makes him a force of nature.
As confederate memorials across the country come down, we celebrate Davis, an African American musician and author who has befriended Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members and persuaded them to give up their hoods and robes.
It was after one of Davis’ concerts in 1983 that a man told him it was the first time he’d seen a Black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. Davis explained the Black origins of Lewis’ style and the man—who was a KKK member—became a friend and fan of Davis. Of that first meeting Davis says, “It was the music that brought us together.”
This experience inspired Davis to interview KKK leaders and members, detailed in his book, Klan-Destine Relationships. What may have started as an “accidental courtesy,” also the title of a 2016 award-winning documentary profiling Davis’ encounters with KKK and neo-Nazi leaders, has become much more.
Today, a peek inside Davis’ closet reveals an impressive collection of tokens from his successful conquests—Klan robes and other memorabilia from more than 200 KKK members who renounced their racist ideology after meeting him.
Daryl Davis has been part of Strathmore’s extended family for years. He has performed in our venues, mentored our Artists in Residence, and guided blues curriculum which reaches all Montgomery County Public School 5th graders. We have watched in awe as he uses his platform to crash through perceived boundaries and do the unimaginable—seek out conversations that change the hearts and minds of members of the Ku Klux Klan. His artistry and bravery are an inspiration to us all.
Terron Cooper Sorrells
If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, Terron Cooper Sorrells’ body of work could fill volumes. This painter and printmaker is absorbed in the idea of extending historical conversations about race in America and spreading African American culture and history through his art.
Strathmore was honored to host Sorrells’ first solo show, The Railroad, in 2019, which explored the stories of African Americans typically left out of US history textbooks. His imagery drafts narratives that, while fictional, stand for stories untold.
At just 26 years old, this Virginia native and graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) has earned comparisons to iconic figures such as Romare Bearden, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and Jacob Lawrence.
While the horrors and atrocities of slavery are well documented, what makes Sorrells a force of nature is how he shines a light on the resilience and perseverance of people desperately determined to be free.
As our country once again looks to the history of slavery and its far-reaching impacts on the way people of color experience systemic bias, it’s gratifying to see new, young artists guiding our reflections of this painful time. Terron Cooper Sorrell’s vivid and visceral paintings and prints speak to viewers on deep, emotional levels, capturing searing moments of broader narratives that linger in your mind and pull at your heart.
At just 18 years old, Marjan Naderi has accrued accolades typically bestowed upon more seasoned artists. Named the 2020 DC Youth Poet Laureate, Naderi is a Muslim Afghan American author, performer, and educator.
Feeling outcast as a minority in America and yet somehow too American to be accepted by the Afghan community, Naderi’s poetry reconciles her family’s roots with that of her American upbringing. In so doing, she has forged a path for healing and understanding.
“I write because I know the narrative that I hold. I’m aware of how often the narrative of Afghan women, a Muslim woman is shoved to the back of the closet,” she says. By elevating the voices of Afghan American women, Naderi has proven herself a force of nature.
For Naderi, the seed of creative writing was planted when she set out to document her journey of self-discovery and growth. Her work breathes life into overlooked stories while touching on feminism, politics, culture, and family dynamics. Cloaked in a jean jacket emblazed with the phrase “Words not Walls,” Naderi takes the stage to perform her spoken word poetry.
While the themes of her writing—cultural heritage and generational trauma—are heavy subjects, Naderi believes that poetry is a powerful medium for building immediate connections with audiences on the journey to compassion and acceptance.
To meet Marjan Naderi is to find optimism. It is a reminder that the leaders and artistic voices of this next generation are emerging with deep and wide understandings of the world and the power of a single voice. Her poetry and spoken word performances hit powerful chords of relevance and shine a light on the perspectives of young people, particularly those in the Muslim community. Strathmore has been honored to work with Marjan in educational preconcert activities that allow patrons to get closer to the art.
C. Brian Williams
While the African American tradition of “stepping” has become visible in popular culture, for C. Brian Williams, founder and executive director of Step Afrika!, stepping is a way of preserving culture, percussive dance traditions, and rituals.
Williams founded Step Afrika!—the world’s first professional company dedicated to the art form—in 1994 after a trip to South Africa introduced him to the gumboot dance originated by South African mine workers. The Howard University graduate was struck by the similarities between the gumboot dance and the stepping he learned as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. in college.
With Step Afrika!, Williams has preserved, expanded, and promoted an appreciation for stepping through professional performances. The company also furthers stepping’s core values of teamwork, commitment, and discipline through arts education programs for young people.
On stage Step Afrika! has brought the story of Jacob Lawrence’s iconic Migration Series to life through movement. Their newest work, Drumfolk, is inspired by the Stono Rebellion of 1739, a little-known event in history that would forever transform African American life and culture.
It’s how Williams remains authentic in honoring the history and tradition of stepping while pushing the boundaries of the art form through innovative and bold artistic choices that makes him a force of nature.
C. Brian Williams has that unique blend of vision, work ethic, and optimism that makes even the most unimaginable goals seem possible. He is an essential collaborator and thought leader—someone our community counts on to not just produce high-quality artistic programming and educational content, but to help us better understand the bigger questions faced by the creative industry and the way in which we connect with and improve our cultural communities. Strathmore has been working with Step Afrika! for many years and is a commission partner of their newest work, Drumfolk.
Yoko K. Sen
Yoko K. Sen is an ambient electronic musician with a mission to transform the sound environment in hospitals.
Born and raised in Japan, Sen began playing piano at age three. She is a former citizen artist fellow at Kennedy Center, an alumnus of Strathmore’s prestigious Artist in Residence program, and has been a featured speaker at our Arts and the Brain series. Sen straddles the worlds of art and health, but it’s her bringing these seemingly disparate areas together that makes her a force of nature.
As a classically trained musician, sensitive to sound, she was disturbed by noise she had experienced in hospitals as a patient. Since then, she has embarked on a mission to humanize the hospital experience by improving its sound.
“I am fascinated by the relationship between sound and emotion and am interested in humanizing technology through empathy,” Sen says. Her company, Sen Sound, aims to alleviate suffering through transforming sound design in hospitals. Patients and their families suffer from noise pollution. Clinicians suffer from alarm fatigue, a major safety hazard. Sen applies human-centered sound design to bring more dignity to our hospital experience.
The universe sends along healing gifts from time to time and Yoko K. Sen is that and more. This “sound alchemist” is on a mission to understand how the world we hear can impact our lives and health. Witnessing her talk about how she’s working to transform the tonal structure in hospitals is mesmerizing and timely as the healthcare industry faces the unprecedented challenges of saving lives and caring for patients.
About Craig Walsh
Monuments is the brainchild of internationally acclaimed artist Craig Walsh. Known for his pioneering works, including innovative approaches to projection mapping in unconventional sites, Walsh’s site-responsive works have animated natural environments and features such as trees, rivers, and mountains, as well as public art projects in urban and architectural spaces. Walsh’s work is distinctive for its conceptual underpinnings and deftly woven narrative.