Sundance Panel explored how artists can reshape politics through role-playing, live music and discussion |

Sundance Panel explored how artists can reshape politics through role-playing, live music and discussion

From left: Moderator Kamal Sinclair, Hank Willis, Eric Gottesman and Michelle Woo discuss art and politics during the Sundance Film Festival’s “How Can Artists Reshape Politics” on Wednesday at the Filmmakers Lodge.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

What: Sundance Film Festival

When: Through Feb. 2

Where: Park City, Salt Lake City and the Sundance Resort


Live music and role playing set “How Can Artists Reshape Politics?” panel apart from other discussions at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Amelia Winger-Bearskin opened the panel, presented by For Freedoms, a collective of artists who explore ways of how to drive art and artists to the center of public discourse, with a Haudenosaunee, or Iriquois, flute invocation.

She made her way through the audience to the stage, where she set the tone by referencing a Wampum, the Iroquois Confederacy’s system of decentralized contracts, which contained the Great Law of Peace.

The Constitution is based on the Wampum, which set up the total equality of the sexes in voting and representation and no concept of slavery.

“(Instead) We have an agricultural system that benefits all who participated, and adding that to our economy brings justice,” Winger-Bearskin said.

The third concept of peace is making sure technological advances are sustainable and in harmony with the land the Iroquois steward, she said.

“When you take away these dependencies, you take away the possibility of peace,” she said.

The panel, which was moderated by Kamal Sinclair, executive director of the Guild of Future Architects, a nonprofit that strives to provide platforms for “enlightened cultural, social, economic and political systems,” examined the possibilities of what it would look like if artists found themselves at the forefront of the population’s political and civil lives.

After the invocation, the panel continued with a step into a hypothetical interview that was set in the year 2045.

Sharon Chang and Robert Sinclair of the Futurists’ Writers Room, a branch of the Guild of Future Architects, acted out the roles of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Gretchen Kanashiro and artist, digital historian and ethic maker, Luis Riviera.

The interview expounded on immigration policies, but also addressed sustainability, climate change and over consumerism, and not taking care of the earth for the new generations.

When the scene ended, Sinclair turned the microphone over to Hank Willis Thomas, Eric Gottesman and Michelle Woo from For Freedoms who talked about the group’s 50 State Initiative, a 2018 project that ended up as a partnership with 300 institutions and artists in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

“The goal is to (create) decentralized art actions in conversation with the current political climate,” Woo explained.

For Freedoms is planning to host its first national convening at the end of February in Los Angeles, where it will collectively build the first artist-designed political platform, she said.

“We plan to do this through artist-designed facilitated workshops and activities across three days,” Woo said.

The platform ties into the concept that art is politics, said Gottesman, as he read excerpts from Frederick Douglass’ 1869 speech, “The Composite Nation,” which was published during the Reconstruction era.

The speech talks of a country comprised of people of different races and creeds, and encourages people to think about the benefits of a diverse nation, and said the speech affected him in ways he hopes today’s ideas may affect future populations.

“Any speech, work of art, or film could help somebody a century later imagine a place for themselves within a society,” he said.

Other panelists included Baltimore-based multimedia artist Elissa Blount Moorhead and Los Angeles-based filmmaker Kahlil Joseph, who expanded Gottesman’s idea of affecting the future.

“Knowing artists create the future is a huge responsibility, but it’s also amazing to know that things I might make could influence how society thinks of itself,” Joseph said.

Moorhead, as an artist, doesn’t think of herself as an activist, but does see overlap in the two worlds.

“I really just spend a lot of time in my head and with creative people trying to think about how we can find ways to express ourselves and how we can interrupt the patriarchy in our lives,” she said. “I don’t think anything I create is a sort of an activist document, but sometimes if it lands that way because of what’s in our bodies or in our history, that’s great.”

The panel was also highlighted by a dance number by filmmaker Naima Ramos-Chapman, who performed a modern dance piece, and a monologue by Narcissister, a performance artist, who expressed her frustration about not being able to fully express herself because she was asked to cover parts of her body.

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