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Life and Religion

Poetry in ‘Glass House’ at the Harvey B. Gantt Center
De'Angelo Dia examines mass incarceration
Published Friday, December 6, 2019 2:55 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

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Prepare to go deep with de’Angelo Dia.

His poetic performance “Glass House” examines the ramifications of mass incarceration of black and brown people through multiple perspectives. It takes place on Dec. 11 from 7-8 p.m. at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture as part of the Walk Up Wednesday series based on the exhibit “…and justice for all,” which is on view through April 12.

Two artists struck Dia as Angie Chandler, Gantt’s manager of public programs and educational initiatives, led him through the exhibit—Dread Scott and Sherrill Roland—whose residency just concluded at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation.

“I love that entire exhibition, just the minimalistic nature of it, but the content driven aspect about it,” Dia said. “I’ve written a poetic response to both of their pieces, to Scott’s video installation, and Roland’s work.”

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Dia’s performance also includes elements from his correspondence with Kenneth E. Foster, who is serving a life sentence in Texas, under the Texas law of parties. In 1996, 19-year-old Foster was arrested and charged with murder because he was driving the vehicle Mauriceo Brown left when he shot and killed Michael LaHood Jr. Foster was on death row, but then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry commuted his sentence six hours before his scheduled execution. Foster’s correspondence with Dia began in 2002. They both wrote for the same magazine—Artists Writing on Liberation, and Dia reached out after noticing the prison address.

“He was with someone when they committed a crime,” Dia said. “I’m writing back and forth with him, but my poetic response is how do I navigate nurturing a relationship with the changing complexity of life on the outside, being metaphorically free, with someone who is incarcerated processing his life on how things change and evolve on the outside for him. We’re experiencing the same evolution of time, but we’re experiencing a different access to things gained through the evolution of time.”

Dia’s performance will come from three different perspectives: the metaphorically free black man, that of Foster, as well as institutional oppression.

“The metaphorically free black man could at any moment experience the harsh reality of injustice in America,” Dia said. “I’m writing from the perspective of Kenneth, someone who is incarcerated, yet still longs to develop relationships with peers and friends from the inside, but I’m also writing from the lens of what it means to be a part of the establishment that created laws intentionally that have hindered black and brown people.”

His poetic monologue will exhibit internal struggle as he shifts from perspective to perspective processing where his place is and his moral stance with such divisive subjects. The poetry is arranged to make the audience question which perspective his words are coming from.  His design shows common elements through the three perspectives, as each examines the moral fabric.

“It’s done in a way that the viewer may lose perspective on whose lens I am speaking from at any moment, and that is intentional,” Dia said. “When I’m performing, I try to avoid being too partisan with anything. I try to make the work invitational, so any viewer can find his or herself within the work that I am doing. I also leave it with sense that, ‘the system is confusing to understand the complexity of all of it, but where do I as an individual stand with it?’”

In addition to being a poet, Dia is a theologian and doctoral student at Union Presbyterian Seminary. He earned a degree in applied communication and sociology from Appalachian State University, a master’s in literature from UNC Charlotte, as well as a master’s in divinity from Union Presbyterian Seminary. He has also studied art in Athens, Greece, Guadalajara, Mexico and Nairobi, Kenya. Dia’s work navigates the realms of faith and art, which afford him different opportunities. It is a matter of balancing the semantics between culture and church.

“I consider many secular things, personally, to be outlets for the sacred,” Dia said. “I don’t know how much the church would embrace the ideal of secularization being a tool or an outlet for righteousness and justice. In a harmonious and diversified way, I understand that these establishments and these institutions can’t use sacred language all the time, because it could be just as divisive for anyone of other faith traditions coming to some of those spaces, but I very much consider galleries and museums for me to be sacred spaces.”
Cost: Free.

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