North America

Helina Metaferia
The Call

By Way of Revolution is a series of works by Helina Metaferia that addresses the inherited histories of protest that inform contemporary social movements. In the project, Metaferia works intrinsically with female descendants of prominent historical black activists to produce video art; with women of color organizations to produce socially engaged work; with “radicalism” archives and performance stills to produce works on paper and tapestries; and with museum, gallery, and public spaces to produce participatory performances.

The Call is an ongoing video project of performances by descendants of prominent civil rights activists across the United States. The first iteration arose after Metaferia’s activist mother died, prompting the artist to connect to four female relatives of renowned activists, who were also artists in their own right: Melani Douglass, a descendant of Frederick Douglass, and her young daughter Asherah; Ayanna Gregory, daughter of Dick Gregory, who died in 2017; and Paula Whaley, who was still grieving the loss of her brother, James Baldwin, three decades after his death. They gathered at Whaley’s house in Baltimore and at Fells Point, a historic slave port in the city, to speak to the often-unacknowledged role that the women in their families played in the civil rights movement.

Steeped in a moment that saw the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the ongoing murders of Black men and women by police around the US, the piece is a collective call to action. It is also a reminder of the individual callings many people have to follow in the footsteps of their elders and ancestors to take up the task of changing the world. Developed amidst the pandemic, racial reckoning, and civil unrest across the US, The Call demonstrates Metaferia’s ability to parse the urgencies of our time from a historical and personal perspective simultaneously, by centering Black women activists and their stories, whose work in revolutionary circles is often crucial but, largely takes place behind the scenes and therefore is easily overlooked.

Helina Metaferia is an interdisciplinary artist working across collage, assemblage, video, performance, and social engagement. The daughter of Ethiopian activist immigrants unable to return home after their studies because of the political situation, with a mother who led a nonprofit organization advocating for the rights of Ethiopian women, raised a Black person of the diaspora in the US, Metaferia’s biography plays an important role in her practice, which asks broadly where does history and revolution live? She proposes it lives in archives, genealogies, canons, and oral histories, but also in bodies, acts of reunion, in holding trauma and joy, in dreaming.

This artwork is licensed by KADIST for its programs, and is not part of the KADIST collection.