Award-winning poet Carl Hancock Rux received a commission from Lincoln Center’s Restart Stages to realize a multi-layered Juneteenth event that sprawls across the Lincoln Center campus, offering music, art and conceptual experiences in commemoration of Juneteenth and the end of slavery in America. Rux curated a four-part program that features the music of Nona Hendryx, Vernon Reid, Toshi Reagon and others as well as an art installation and costume designs created by the influential artist Dianne Smith.
The entirety of the event, titled “I Dream a Dream That Dreams Back at Me: A Juneteenth Celebration,” which will take place at Lincoln Center June 19, promises to be a powerful experience of celebration and also a sobering examination of the complex combination of joy, fear, freedom and sorrow that enslaved Black people were forced to grapple with after being emancipated.
Leah Johnson, Lincoln Center’s executive vice president, chief communications, marketing and advocacy officer, expressed in a statement, “The commission of Carl Hancock Rux’s awe-inspiring work is a reflection of the kind of socially engaged creativity we’re honored to support. Lincoln Center is committed to representing the diverse excellence that makes up our city and our world. With Restart Stages, we are reimagining our campus, our programming and hoping to extend a radical welcome to all New Yorkers.”
Carl Hancock Rux took the time to talk to the AmNews about the inspiration behind his curation, and his personal thoughts about what Juneteenth means to him.
“The title and concept of ‘I Dream a Dream That Dreams Back at Me’ is from Toni Morrison and her novel ‘Mercy.’ For me, just the title alone speaks to reciprocity in a certain kind of way. It speaks to a cyclical nature of imagination, knowledge, of being and of awareness.
“So, when I’ve been asked what Juneteenth means to me, it’s a very difficult subject because on one level there’s what we know about the history of slavery, or what so little we know about the history. We know some facts, but we don’t know exactly what was said and how everyone felt. There’s so much to discover and unearth.
“When I think of Juneteenth specifically, it has always been contextualized to me as a celebration. And I have not necessarily taken that stance. I don’t think of it as a celebration. I don’t think of it as mourning. It holds a complicated meaning for me that belongs to the circuitous nature of a history rooted in genocide. What I mean by that is that Juneteenth began as an event that was to commemorate when the enslaved of Texas were finally informed two years after the Emancipation Proclamation that they were free. I cannot imagine what I would have felt like at that moment. Would I have felt joy? I think that I might have felt angry that the message was coming to me two years later, but the rest of the nation knew this and I did not. I would have wondered if my master would have known. Then, in reading the Emancipation Proclamation itself, it’s somewhat complicated.
“It’s almost like a dream that dreams back at me. It’s almost like something facing a clouded mirror and trying to understand the nature of law, the nature of human ownership, the nature of racism, the nature of prejudice and the nature of freedom. And to be emancipated was a dream in itself at that time that must have been very scary because if you’re being emancipated without agency, land, a home, a job and equal rights what does it mean? Are we really free?
“So, dreaming a dream that dreams back at me seems frightening to me and it is both glorious. It’s almost like having a nightmare and a wonderful dream all at the same time.
“So, the dream itself is in conversation with me, and it’s a much more complicated conversation than just, ‘You are free.’”
“I Dream a Dream That Dreams Back at Me: A Juneteenth Celebration” will take place at 7 p.m. in Hearst Plaza and Damrosch Park on the Lincoln Center campus in New York City. To learn more about the events, programming and artists and musicians featured, visit www.lincolncenter.org/lincoln-center-at-home/series/restart-stages.