Artist Diary: Ebony Noelle Golden seeks sacred spaces of Black liberation

2020 Creative Capital Grantee Ebony Noelle Golden’s Jubilee 11213: The Keeping is a multi-generational cultural organizing and community theater collaboration.

Since receiving the Creative Capital Grant in 2020, Golden has hosted a digital liberation salon and virtual learning exchanges with scholars, artists, and culture workers to discuss strategies of radical imagining, providing a deeper understanding of how freedom colonies were established and sustained in relation to Weeksville’s legacy, a historically African American neighborhood in Brooklyn founded by self-emancipated Black people in 1838. Golden invited artists to undergo the Freedom Fellowship to explore Weeksville’s digital archive, and deepened her research by visiting sites of Black liberation colonies, such as Gullah islands, North Carolina, Brazil, Texas, and Louisiana, to gather information about strategies Black families have implored to keep their land for generations. 

These myriad efforts culminate on May 13, for the premiere of Jubilee 11213: The Keeping. The Keeping is a multi-site specific processional performance composed of live music, dance, storytelling, and poetry, and activates the entire Weeksville campus and four blocks bordering the center. Informed by Weeksville’s history, The Keeping explores the legacy of sovereignty, autonomy for Black communities who established freedom towns and spiritual communities from the 1800’s until now, through a theatrical ceremony informed by practices of social good, self-determination, spirituality, sensuality, and sovereignty as critical components of the Black liberation continuum. 

Read Golden’s Artist Diary to learn about the making of Jubilee 11213: The Keeping.

Visit Weeksville Heritage Center on Saturday, May 13, 2023 at 6:00PM to experience Jubilee 11213: The Keeping. More information here.

A black and white selfie of artist Ebony Golden pictured in front of a body of water.

Photo by Ebony Noelle Golden.

Selfie snapped on the banks of the Combahee River in South Carolina. My creative process requires that I travel to sacred sites of Black liberation. For Jubilee 11213: The Keeping, I invited several members of the creative team to travel with me to the Gullah Islands. The Combahee has served as a “river road” for many self-emancipating Black folks. I imagine many of these ancestors landed in places like Weeksville on the other side of their freedom journey.

A dirt and grass yard with a white house to the left. Sepia-filtered.

In worship on Saint Helena Island. Still cropped from video by Viktor Le. Givens.

In the practice of “stealing a meeting” self-emancipating Black folks would use church services as spaces to plot their escape. I imagine praise houses as freedom portals, as places where people who were thought of as property would reclaim their time and their capacity to build a world of their choosing.

Black and white image of four figures with their arms up walking away from a house.

Jupiter Performance Studio in process at Weeksville. Artists: (left to right) Matthew Zenni Corbin, Safiya Bandele, Ebony Webster, and Jude Evans. Still cropped from a video by Joshua Laws.

The process of making this work allowed me to work with so many people. Community is the most important and challenging aspect of my practice. Listening to and working with such brilliant people requires patience and grounding. Ultimately, the most challenging aspects are what most excite me. I am most excited about witnessing the community response to our work. The Keeping is a ceremony and it wouldn’t work without the congregation of witnesses moving, singing, and affirming the artists, the liberator-artists who have prepared this work alongside me. 

A desk covered in white papers with a lamp, a laptop, and two wooden sticks.

Ebony in residency at MacDowell. Photo by Ebony Noelle Golden.

Over the last three years, there have been many changes to this project. Initially, I was set to plan a durational processional that visited many of the sites relevant to Weeksville. There was a need to update and activate the heritage site’s walking tour at one point. My research and creative process, as well as logistical constraints, led me to the current iteration of the work. Making work during the pandemic meant that most of the development took place virtually and under very strict travel protocol. I am an artist who prefers to make work outside, so being on my laptop trying to stretch beyond the distance into the creative sensibilities of my collaborators challenged me tremendously. 

Seven animated figures stand in a circle outdoors on grass in front of a black metal fence.

Jupiter Performance Studio in process at Weeksville Heritage Center.

What I needed, I received from Creative Capital. For those who think this is just about a grant, please think again. I have had the benefit of being in a community and learning from trusted practitioners and leaders in the field. I understand more about the holistic process of production as a spiritual and intuitive durational event. The stamina and patience I have developed because of Creative Capital’s care and dutifulness has left an indelible mark on my life and creative practice. Much gratitude.

A brass sign in a white holder reads "GIVENS HOMESITE" and outlines the creation of a freedom town in Texas.

Givens Hill, a Black freedom town in East Texas.

Creative Capital allowed me to travel to sites where Black people established freedom towns prior to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Keeping’s environment designer is a descendant of Givens Hill.

A man wearing flannel and a blue hat sits on a tractor in a field.

Visiting Mr. JW. Photo by Ebony Noelle Golden.

Mr. JW owns and operates Morris Enterprises, a construction and livestock business in Longview, East Texas. He comes from generations of farmers. We spoke about the importance of Black people learning how to live and thrive off the land.

A woman in orange stands and leans over an orange tractor.

Visiting Ms. Paulette Cooper. Photo by Ebony Noelle Golden.

Ms. Paulette Cooper’s family has stewarded over 100 acres of land in East Texas for generations. Providing space and opportunities for other family and community members. During our time together, I learned about the ways in which Black communities can continue to be sovereign and autonomous today.  

Integrity is everything. Once a community no longer trusts you, it is over. If you can’t commit, don’t. Don’t waste people’s time and resources being flaky and unsure. That may work in other places, but it surely doesn’t work in the realm of theatrical ceremony. It’s also of utmost importance to honor protocol, your ancestors, elders, teachers, and organizers. When people choose to give you time, to pour into you, to teach you, to share opportunities with you they have decided that you are family. Once that is ruptured, there is an immediate impact on you. The residue lingers and it doesn’t leave just because we move on to another opportunity or forget about the incident altogether. Whatever one gives they get. It’s just universal law.  

A black and white photo from the back of figures with their hands raised.

Jupiter Performance Studio in process at Weeksville. Still cropped from video by Joshua Laws.

I hope The Keeping reminds us that wherever we go is a sacred space where Black liberation is possible. Our breath is an alchemic technology that literally transforms any place we enter. Weeksville, like so many freedom colonies, is a portal of possibility and astral projection. Being on this land reminds us of every moment in history, now, and the future where Black people have, will be, and are currently free. Working in the legacy of Weeksville is working in the legacy of all of our elevated ancestors who have made freedom possible. This is the point of this ceremony, this performance. This is what I hope we remember and recommit to as a result of experiencing The Keeping

Visit Weeksville Heritage Center on Saturday, May 13, 2023 at 6:00PM to experience Jubilee 11213: The Keeping. More information here.