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R.A.P. Lessons: Bridging Race, Arts, and Placemaking


“One guiding principle [of Question Bridge] is that quite a lot is revealed when you are asked to pose what, for you, is a meaningful question….a question reveals what you don’t know, what you are willing to discover and also assumptions that may or may not be self-evident.” —Chris Johnson

Join us for the opening night of R.A.P. Lessons: Bridging Race, Arts, and Placemaking, a six-week video exhibition throughout Wallis Annenberg Hall, with performative and curricular interventions between schools and with community partners. A conversation with artists Chris Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas and Annenberg associate professor Taj Frazier will explore the links between art, pedagogy, and social change. The event will be presented as part of USC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Awareness Week (January 14-19) and will be live streamed on Facebook.

The public exhibition is inspired by Question Bridge: Black Males, an innovative transmedia project that uses video to facilitate a conversation among Black men from diverse backgrounds. Question Bridge started in 1996 when Johnson facilitated questions from one segment of the Black community, those who lived in the “hood,” to another segment, “well-off” Black people living outside of the “hood,” through videotaped interviews. The project evolved In 2007 with the involvement of artists Thomas, Bayeté Ross Smith, and Kamal Sinclair to focus on Black males specifically. Question Bridge: Black Males has been internationally exhibited and a high school curriculum is being piloted in multiple school districts across the country.

Question Bridge will be reinvented for the USC community through R.A.P. Lessons, which will provide a platform for community partners, faculty, and students to create their own “Question Bridges” as live or social media engagements exploring issues of race and identity. Under the direction of Johnson, students from Roski and Annenberg classes will create their own work, and satellite partnerships will be facilitated through the ongoing community work of USC RAP (Race, Arts, and Placemaking) faculty.

Taj Frazier
 is associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and director of the Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg (IDEA). His research examines histories and current-day dynamics of race and gender, cultural traffic and contact, urban culture and life, and popular culture. He is the author of The East Is Black: Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination. (Twitter)

Chris Johnson is a photographic and video artist, curator, and writer. He is a professor of photography at the California College of the Arts, and his artwork has been exhibited in galleries and museums including the Smithsonian Museum and the Oakland Museum of California. Johnson authored The Practical Zone System for Film and Digital Photography and has served as president of San Francisco Camerawork Gallery, chair of the City of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Commission, and director of the Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography. (California College for the Arts faculty profile)

Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. His work is included in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the High Museum of Art, and the National Gallery of Art. His collaborative project For Freedoms, the first artist-run initiative for art and civic engagement, was awarded an ICP Infinity Award. (TwitterWikipedia)

Additional Links:
Artists@Google: Chris Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas (Video)
Artlog: Hank Willis Thomas on Race (Video)
Museum of Modern Art Artist Profile: Hank Willis Thomas: Unbranded (Video)
NPR: “Questioning the Black Male Experience in America” (Audio)
TIME Magazine: “The Question Bridge Project: Redefining Black Male Identity”
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: Artist Hank Willis Thomas @VMFA (Video)

Presented by USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative. Organized by Suzanne Lacy (Art and Design), Robeson Taj Frazier (Communication and Journalism), the USC Roski School of Art and Design and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Co-sponsored by RAP (Race, Arts, and Placemaking)the Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg (IDEA)SLAB (Spatial Analysis Lab) at USC Price, the Faculty Arts Mentoring Alliance (FAMA), the Institute for Theater and Social Change, the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, and For Freedoms.

Photo: Chris Johnson