Rodney McMillian
Brown: videos from The Black Show

Three years ago, Rodney McMillian presented The Black Show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. Using a collection of large-scale paintings, sculptures and videos he formed a vision of the United States scarred by its long history of racialized oppression. Many of the videos were created in South Carolina, where McMillian was born. Others were filmed around Dockery Farms, an infamous plantation in Mississippi where some claim the Delta Blues was birthed.

McMillian transformed these places, along with moonlit fields and buzzing swamps, into stages for the performances you have just witnessed. The performances use song lyrics, political sermons and children’s stories deeply rooted in our American vernacular. His characters wear costumes like armor that serve as warning signs of—and protection from—a lush Southern landscape turned hostile by propaganda and laws. Taken together, McMillian’s videos create a mythic universe that mirrors our own, full of abundant brown earth and other suns in its skies, where we might plant the seeds of a more accurate story. 

We are the time travelers from a distant future who were imagined by our ancestors so very long ago. It took us 400 years to get here. We are proof that history is not a fixed condition, and does not follow a linear path. It must be remembered, and reformed because people and places tend to get family-like or foreign, depending on where you stand. That is why we thought it best to share this text at the end, where it can also be a new beginning.

The UM

On view October 5, 2019 through February 16, 2020.

Installation views, Rodney McMillian, Brown: videos from The Black Show at The Underground Museum. Courtesy of The Underground Museum. Photos by Zak Kelley.