Watching “Migratruse” from Monograph on PBS

The ten-minute documentary Migratruse gives a brief glimpse into efforts at turning an old plantation house in Harpersville, Alabama into site for an artistic and cultural reckoning with the place’s history of slavery. The artists who are changing the narrative of this place seek to challenge old beliefs about change and decay establish a new idea of what it can be.

For these experiences to occur, Theoangelo Perkins and Nell Gottlieb came together to form Klein Arts & Culture, which holds homecoming events for the descendants of the plantation’s former slave. Perhaps an unlikely pair, Perkins’ black ancestors came to the property after slavery had ended, and Gottlieb’s great-great-grandfather built the house in the 1840s; she is the current owner. They also worked with the Wideman-Davis Dance Company to produce the dance program Migratruse Ataraxia that is performed in the house.  Co-director Thaddeus Davis explains in Migratruse that he hails from Alabama and is interested in using his art form to explore the past.

This unusual program shows that there are more ways to understand and confront established narratives than reading history books, watching documentaries, visiting museums, and attending panel discussions. Using the large, once-prominent but now-dilapidated house as a canvas for art and a stage for dance brings audiences into a non-verbal “discussion,” allowing for other kinds of experiences than one might gain from two-dimensional images and verbal descriptions. Certainly, the bald facts of slavery in American South are inarguable, and many of our debates today center not around whether these things happened, but around beliefs and myths about those facts. What better place to challenge those beliefs, myths, and narratives than in the places where the events occurred?

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