Imagine this: hundreds of Black reenactors dressed in period clothing, some on horseback and waving flags, chanting in Creole and English amid the sounds of African drumming. It’s not a scene from a fictional movie, but performance art that reimagines the largest rebellion of enslaved people in the history of the United States.
The dramatic scene unfolded today (Friday) and will continue on Saturday in Louisiana. Brooklyn-based artist Dread Scott calls his latest collaborative project the Slave Rebellion Reenactment (SRR). It revolves around reclaiming the narrative of the German Coast Uprising of 1811, a massive rebellion in which hundreds of enslaved men and women demanded freedom.
The project dovetails with America’s commemoration of 1619 and the “20 and odd” Africans first brought 400 years ago in bondage to English North America. But this one-of-a-kind event, Scott told BET, is a 21st Century focus on resistance and emancipation.
“Enslaved people, despite their horrendous circumstances, embraced this radical vision and heroic pursuit for a future not only where they could be free from bondage, but end the institution of slavery altogether,” Scott said. “In addition to our country grappling with the long-reaching, present-day effects of slavery and oppression, it is important to acknowledge the power that resides in reimagining your own destiny.”
The Slave Rebellion Reenactment is both a large-scale, community-engaged live art performance and a film production. Set along the River Parishes in Louisiana, the 26-mile roving performance will travel over two days from St. John the Baptist Parish to St. Charles Parish, retracing the route of the historic 1811 uprising. It will conclude with a public celebration in New Orleans’ Congo Square inside Louis Armstrong Park with performers such as Trombone player Delfeayo Marsalis, rapper Truth Universal and the Kumbuka African Drum & Dance Collective.
The performance is a collaboration with the New Orleans-based arts organization Antenna, which has been integral to the development of the project and is led by Bob Snead. Overall, it’s been a six-year artistic effort involving historians, artists and community members.
It will be captured on film by Ghanaian-British filmmaker and director John Akomfrah with Smoking Dogs Films, who will produce a multi-screen art film weaving together documentation of the walk.
The project marks the first time in history that the rebellion has been reenacted at this scale, and it will make for an impressive visual, said Scott, who describes his work as “revolutionary art to propel history forward.” He also added, “Machetes, muskets, sabers, flags and hundreds of volunteers in period costumes representing Black and Indigenous people who wanted freedom. It will be a beautiful sight.”
The reenactment will also incorporate the fake killing of two white enslavers, who were actually slain during the rebellion. “For some people it will be challenging,” he acknowledged.
Yet Scott, whose art is exhibited across the U.S. and internationally, is no stranger to controversy. In 1989 while a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, his art provoked heated emotions over its transgressive use of the American flag. Since then, his work has been included in exhibitions at New York's MoMA PS1, the Whitney Museum of American Art and Gallery MOMO in Cape Town, South Africa and in the streets of New York.
Slave Rebellion Reenactment has received support from VIA Art Fund, Ford Foundation, the Open Society Institute, Surdna Foundation, MAP Fund, A Blade of Grass and other supporters. Donors include upwards of 500 individuals who helped raise some $42,000 dollars via crowdsourcing.
“This is a collaborative, community effort,” said Scott. “This is history, past and present. We can learn from it.”
Photo: Soul Brother