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Turns out, running for Congress was just a part-time job for losing candidate Kevin Powell.
Instead of entirely devoting himself to his longshot campaign against 26-year incumbent Rep. Ed Towns, Powell was spending significant time curating, “I AM A MAN,” an exhibit that opens on Thursday the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art.
He also worked on “The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn: New and Selected Poems” — the two books he released during a year that was supposed to be entirely set aside towards the goal of defeating Towns.
Instead, Powell collaborated with MoCADA staff to put together the 11-artist show, which examines the black male experience using a 40-year-old snapshot by photojournalist Ernest Withers as a point of reference.
The show includes more than 50 works responding to a 1968 photo that depicts a group of black men at a sanitation workers’ strike in the days before Martin Luther King’s assassination, holding signs that read: “I AM A MAN.”
“This whole show kind of just came together as this campaign was winding down,” said Powell — who in 1999 curated “Roots, Rhymes and Rage” — an exhibit about hip-hop that debuted at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland before moving to the Brooklyn Museum the following year.
“MoCADA approached me because we had always wanted to put something together around that great civil rights photo, so I started suggesting artists,” said Powell, who lost to Towns 67-33 percent in the Sept. 9 primary.
Powell said his busy campaign schedule left him little time to get involved in the months before the show. But between press conferences, meet-and-greets, and fundraisers, Powell did scrape together time to consult with MoCADA curators, suggest personal favorites for the show, including the painter Radcliffe Bailey and the photographer Jamel Shabazz.
“Working with Kevin was great,” said MoCADA curator Kimberli Gant.
Now that Powell’s congressional aspirations are on hold — until 2010, that is — he has stepped up his involvement by planning events to coincide with the show, such as a recreation of Withers’s photo at the opening night reception. The photo will be taken by New York Times photographer Chester Higgins Jr.
Even though preparing the exhibit took time away his struggling campaign, Powell maintains that if he wins his 2010 reelection bid, he won’t abandon his dedication to the arts.
“When I get to Congress — whenever that happens — there is no way that I a going to stop being an artist or being a writer,” he said. “That’s who I am.”
“I AM A MAN” is at MoCADA (80 Hanson Pl., at South Portland Avenue in Fort Greene) from Sept. 25–Jan. 18. Tickets are $4 for adults, $3 for students and seniors, and free for children 12 and under. The museum is open Wednesday–Sunday, 11 am to 6 pm. For information, call (718) 230-0492.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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