City of Women at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Leading female voices of the past and present come vibrantly to life in City of Women, a multidisciplinary production, curated and conceived by the Garner Museum’s Visiting Curator for Performing Arts, Helga Davis, and featuring the world premiere of new commission, On Lucretia, by Oompa.
Helga Davis’s City of Women tells the stories of women, from Lucretia to Sandra Bland, whose lives and deaths have inspired action against tyranny. Music paired with readings from Christine de Pizan (1364-1430), Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648-1695), Oompa, and others has been curated in response to Botticelli’s companion paintings depicting the stories of Lucretia and Virginia, a focal point of the Museum’s special exhibition Botticelli: Heroines + Heroes (on view February 14-May 19, 2019).
Oompa, a powerful and unique performer, described by Davis as a “force of nature,” will use her signature hybrid rap/spoken word sound to create a new work (music and text) responding to Lucretia’s story and its themes that is stripped-down, raw, and personal. As part of the process for creating On Lucretia, in fall 2018, Oompa met with Gardner curators to discuss Botticelli’s Story of Lucretia (c. 1500) and spend some time with the painting in preparation for her performance. The painting reimagines the ancient Roman legend, or tragedy, of the rape of a noblewoman who then sacrificed herself to generate political change, ultimately leading to the founding of the Roman Republic. The story was long held to emblemize female virtue and provided a popular subject for artists and writers, such as Botticelli. Oompa’s contemporary musical reflection on Lucretia will bring new relevance and a contemporary feminist lens to this ancient and controversial story.
Along with the world premiere of Oompa’s On Lucretia, additional works will include Be Steadwell performing a new arrangement of Barbara Strozzi’s Che si può fare, and Shellz performing a new improvisational dance piece to Gloria Coates, “Illumination” from Transitions (1985). Courtney Bryan will accompany a chorus performing her work Yet Unheard (in memory of Sandra Bland), and Boston’s Handel & Haydn Young Women’s Chamber Choir will perform Kate Whitley’s choral-orchestral work Speak Out, set to Malala Yousafzai’s landmark 2013 United Nations speech about education, as well as Kim Baryluk’s moving anthem Warrior. Each performance will be interspersed with readings by Helga Davis, giving new voice to important female writers and thinkers throughout history.
Through the many points of view embodied by each performer and each work in City of Women, this evening-length presentation will illustrate the ways women have been viewed and used in public narratives and civic projects, from the development of the Florentine Republic during Botticelli’s lifetime to more contemporary uprisings and societal conflicts. The resulting multidisciplinary program will seamlessly interweave new and old musical, dance, and written works, infusing new life and relevance into these narratives through carefully curated juxtapositions, thus helping audiences to find new relevance and pathways into the Gardner Museum and its collection.
Oompa’s debut album November 3rd, available on all streaming services.
Oompa’s recent music video for “I Deserve That” featured on the album, November 3rd.
Requiem for: A Tuesday
Conceived by Davóne Tines
Created by Helga Davis and Davóne Tines
Music composed by Helga Davis, Shara Nova, and Caroline Shaw
Choreography by Reggie “Regg-Roc” Gray
This excerpt of “Requiem for: A Tuesday” from National Sawdust’s second season opening night in October 2016 is an example of Helga Davis’s work as both curator and performer, and is representative of the scope and feel of “City of Women.”
Start and End Dates