Seven Women Artists of Color Have Honored Kamala Harris’s Inauguration With a Video Celebrating the Roots of Her Historic Triumph

The ambitious video art project was filmed by artists around the country.

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons in her art performance piece When We Gather, a tribute to the inauguration of Kamala Harris. Photos by Tommy Oliver courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.
Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons in her art performance piece When We Gather, a tribute to the inauguration of Kamala Harris. Photo by Tommy Oliver courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

A group of seven women artists of color are collaborating to mark the inauguration of Kamala Harris as America’s next vice president with When We Gather, a new artwork presented by New York public art nonprofit Creative Time.

The idea for the project first came to Afro-Cuban artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons the day the November election was called in favor of Joe Biden and Harris.

In her acceptance speech, the vice president-elect—the first woman, the first Black person, and the first person of South Asian descent to hold the post—thanked her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who moved to the US from India at just 19 years old.

“Harris claimed this moment for ‘the generations of women—Black women, Asian, White, Latina, and Native American women throughout our nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment,’” Campos-Pons said in a statement. “She called on us all: mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, girls; cis and trans, to celebrate with her. When We Gather is our collective answer to her invitation.”

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons in her video art performance piece When We Gather, a tribute to the inauguration of Kamala Harris. Photos by Tommy Oliver courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

Inspired by the Yoruba religious rituals of her childhood, Campos-Pons envisioned a circle of women of all ages and ethnicities, clad in Suffragist white and dancing around the White House. She knew that executing such a piece live in DC on Inauguration Day would be impossible due to security concerns and the realities of the global health crisis, so she quickly reimagined the performance as a film.

That allowed her enlist artists from cities across the county to take part: Okwui Okpokwasili, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Dell Marie Hamilton, Jana Harper, Lisa E. Harris, and Samita Sinha, for a total of seven women—one for each of the seven powers in the Yoruba religion.

Gallery Wendi Norris in San Francisco, which represents Campos-Pons, immediately got behind the project, with Norris signing on to executive produce the film.

<em>When We Gather</em> director Codie Oliver with cinematographer Tommy Oliver. Photo by Rodney Marsh, courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

When We Gather director Codie Elaine Oliver with cinematographer Tommy Oliver. Photo by Rodney Marsh, courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris.

Codie Elaine Oliver, co-creator of the documentary series Black Love, served as the film’s director, traveling to cities including Nashville, Houston, and Brooklyn to shoot each segment individually. She wove the resulting footage together with historic photographs of women, concluding with a portrait of Harris.

The three-minute film is overlaid with a poem by Diggs, a poet and sound artist, that is narrated by actress Alfre Woodard. Though the seven dancers are separated by vast distances, the video joins them together in a circular dance, with choreography by Okpokwasili, a performance artist.

“This performance presents us all with an opportunity to take part in healing and uniting our divided country through positive action and through the strength and ability of women, starting with the vice president,” Norris said in a statement.

<em>When We Gather</em> director Codie Elaine Oliver with Jana Harper. Photo by Tommy Oliver courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

When We Gather director Codie Elaine Oliver with Jana Harper. Photo by Tommy Oliver courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

She hopes that the project, which was produced with funding from the Ford Foundation, will tour museums and universities.

When We Gather will premiere online at 7 p.m. on January 27, one week after Biden and Harris are sworn into office, and runs through February 15. The website also includes interviews with the participating artists and invites viewers to create and upload their own videos inspired by the piece.

When We Gather arrives at an inflection point—serving as both a moment of reflection and a galvanizing call to envision, and enact, a better tomorrow,” Creative Time executive director Justine Ludwig said in a statement. “The work speaks to the elemental role that women have played in the progress of this nation.”


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