CREATIVE DUO EXPLORES DEEP-ROOTED THEMES IN ‘AND STILL I RISE/THE WATER DANCERS’
Water Dancer / And Still I Rise I-V, 160 x 120 Ci-Prints / 3 + 2AP, Karen D. McKinnon & Caecilia Tripp. 2023, STARDUST SEEDS COLLECTIVE
Choreographer: Okwui Okpokwasili. Commissioned by Locust Projects Miami with the support of the Andy Warhol Foundation in co-production with the Wexner Center of the Arts.
Longtime friends and collaborators Karen McKinnon and Caecilia Tripp created a compelling film installation “And Still I Rise/The Water Dancers.” The project explores and pays tribute to African American lives lost in shipwrecks off the coast of the Florida Keys, while investigating the theme of Black Lives Matter. Producing the film was made possible through the Locust Projects New Work/Projects WaveMaker Grant.
McKinnon and Tripp, whose collaborations date back to when they met while attending different universities in Paris, make a new project about every seven years. “We’ve been going on more continuously since we started working on ‘Water Dancers’ and now are starting a collective,” said McKinnon. “We are now delving more into the cinema format starting off with this short film, which explores fluid identity,” said Tripp.
The duo began the project through a conversation with Divers With a Purpose (DWP), a group of black veteran scuba divers. The group started an alliance with the Everglades to do archaeological searches for the remnants of The Guerrero Slave Ship, which wrecked near the Florida Keys in 1827; 41 of the 561 Africans aboard the ship perished.
The filmmakers were also inspired by actor Samuel Jackson, who made the six-part television series examining the 400 years of human trafficking from Africa to the New World, “Enslaved: The Lost History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.” The first episode features the DWP divers and their search for The Guerrero.
“As we spoke more about this project, and as the Black Lives Matter movement and the George Floyd protests raged on, we spent a lot of time working with these groups and felt this all tied together,” said Tripp.
McKinnon, who is a Miami native, and Tripp have integrated the contemporary history of Miami with this sunken slave ship The Guerrero. Tripp says the film is, “examining what it would be like exploring this and raising this sunken slave ship’s history up, presenting it in a very poetic form,” said Tripp.
The water dancer in the film provides the poetic form, symbolizing the thought of bringing back those whose lives have been lost, creating what Tripp calls, “a sense of uprising and prayer.”
“We want the water dancer in our film to be a fluid being that can travel through these waterways and can pop up anywhere showing her defiance to any kind of trauma,” said McKinnon and Tripp.
The choreographer Okwui Okpokwasili, of Nigerian descent and based in New York, brought her spirit and commitment to this project — despite the fact she is unable to swim. Through training with DWP, Okpokwasili was prepared to submerge herself underwater for the filming of this project. In training the choreographer, DWP once again fulfilled their mission to train black divers.
The duo filmmakers carefully poured their hearts and souls into the project, paying homage to these shipwrecks which they feel are new monuments symbolizing resilience, hope, and freedom.
The 12-minute film will be presented in a three-panel installation on a continuous loop with surround sound, where visitors to the space will feel as if they’re submerged in water. The goal is for the viewer to feel a sense of empowerment and healing.
“We hope this film helps us understand these souls that are protecting us, holding us up, in a sense, so we can make progress as a people,” said Tripp. “In the film, we want to acknowledge this collective history and that only this way can we move on.”
Currently there are different propositions open for where the film will be shown and McKinnon and Tripp are ecstatic that their “main screening has already had a great reaction. It truly is resonating with people.”
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