One man movement piece expresses racial struggle

Sam Kebede puts his hands up pressing against an invisible wall, reminiscent of the hands up don’t shoot pose and chant seen and heard in Ferguson, MO. (Matthew Gilbert/The Daily Campus)

Sam Kebede, a fifth-semester graduate acting major created and performed a one man movement piece entitled “A Black Response to the Election of 2016” Monday evening bin the drama and music building.

The entire piece was movement only, absolutely no dialogue, serving to communicate historical and contemporary issues surrounding race ranging from slave auctions to police brutality toward minority groups. His physicality expressed movement and poses that reflected what has been seen on the news, such as the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ image used in protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown.

His movements and choreography were deliberately repetitive at times throughout the piece, as the scenes took place at different times in history. There were moments of being whipped and beaten at a slave auction, handcuffing and thrown to the ground and dragged. The imagery spoke to the idea that things have not changed in Kebede’s view.

“I wanted people to realize how things haven’t changed,” Kebede said. “I feel like so often we just hit reset in society, specifically black people in this country, every time we get to a point where ‘we’ve done something now let’s stop’ and we see it at every junction in our society. Let’s say 1860s, okay, liberated slaves, boom, reset, 1870s we start to have Jim Crow laws - that was a great 10 years.”

Repetition was used in the piece by Kebede, who climbs up the side of a staircase several times in his performance - which spoke to the idea of minorities working harder than their predominantly white counterparts. Kebede, however, champions that there is no wrong interpretation of any particular moment in his piece, such is the liberty of performance art.

Aaron Bantum, a third-semester acting major offered his thoughts on the performance. “There should be a change within our community that helps us grow rather than keep us confined and restricted. What Sam produces in his piece is that the black man is not a man that is held down and shouldn’t be held down. He’s in ways much like a white man- that he has a purpose on this earth to protect himself and his family,” Bantum said.

Accompanying Kebede’s choreography was a small television screen that showed slides of text, heavy handed messages and statistics about race and police brutality. The final slide read ‘It can’t be that bad, our president is black.’

Sam Kebede in “A Black Response to the Election of 2016." (Matthew Gilbert/The Daily Campus)

“I have heard that so many times,” said Kebede.

Several messages were displayed throughout the performance, such as a fake hashtag of #blacklivesplatter and statistics pointing to the suggestion of a lack of convictions in several incidents of police brutality.

Carly Polistina, a third-semester acitng major, thought the piece portrayed the Presidential election as a lack of progress in the United States. “It’s showing how we’re taking steps back, but not even just steps back, because there haven’t been enough steps forward. I think the election has become a new bouncing off point of ‘see we haven’t changed yet,’ and it encapsulates the mentality that has to be changed,” Polistina said.


Matthew Gilbert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.gilbert@uconn.edu.