Ja’Tovia Gary: An Ecstatic Experience

March 12, 2020–November 1, 2020

Davis North

The artist and filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary (b. 1984, Dallas) seeks through her work to liberate the distorted histories through which Black life is often viewed and present a nuanced and complex Black interiority. Her documentary films and experimental videos chart how structures of power shape perceptions around representation, race, gender, sexuality, and violence.

Gary’s video An Ecstatic Experience (2015) incorporates narratives and sounds from different archival media, such as harp recordings by jazz musician and composer Alice Coltrane and a film performance by the actress, playwright, and civil rights activist Ruby Dee in the role of Fannie Moore, a woman born into slavery in 1849 who narrates the story of her mother praying ecstatically that their enslavement be over. Within these montages, Gary intersperses animated scratches, glitches, markings that draw the viewer to an interview with Assata Shakur, a former member of the Black Liberation Army, and scenes from Black Lives Matter protests in Baltimore.

Gary’s editing process weaves together the historical and the contemporary, reality and performance, to question how we respond to and understand these interconnected moments in history. She invokes the ecstatic–in the dual sense of relating to or characterized by ecstasy or a state of sudden, intense, overpowering emotion; and subject to or in a state of ecstasy, joy, or rapture to question what we can do to restore the history that has been lost or taken away from us culturally, personally, and politically.

Banner Image: Ja’Tovia Gary, An Ecstatic Experience (still), 2015. Color video with sound, 6 minutes. Edition 6/7 + 1AP. Museum purchase from the Jere Abbott Acquisitions Fund in support of the New Media Arts Consortium, a collaboration of the art museums at Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Colby College, Middlebury College, and Skidmore College. 2019.426