Artists Reach Out: Greg Purnell and Tendayi Kuumba - Gibney
Week of July 13, 2020
Making space for

Artists Reach Out: Greg Purnell and Tendayi Kuumba

A Black woman and man behind her posing in a white studio.

ARTISTS REACH OUT: REFLECTIONS IN A TIME OF ISOLATION

Senior Curatorial Director Eva Yaa Asantewaa dreamed this series of interviews, Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation, out of grief for her work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance.

“In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there’s no distancing around what we still can share with one another—our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I’m glad they’re part of our beautiful community, and I’m eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.” – Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Senior Curatorial Director

This interview features 2019 Gibney Spotlight artists: choreographer Tendayi Kuumba and visual artist/writer Greg Purnell.


Greg Purnell is a Brooklyn-born and -bred barber, visual artist, writer and all around creative. He has cultivated and refined his multi-medium artistry and sense of vision through barbering, which has provided a beautiful reservoir of inspiration and people from vastly different walks of life and cultural backgrounds. Greg has been featured in the 2015 BRIC Stoop Series Barbershop Stories: it’s all about hair and BRIC TV’s Brooklyn Made series. Other features include Afropunk, BAM, OkayAfrica and Nike collaborations, and webseries feature in I Don’t Camouflage by Aiko Tanaka. He embodies various practices such as sound designer, lighting designer, director and music creator for various solo and collaborative works. Past choreographic/creative works include collaborations with Tendayi Kuumba, Courtney Cook, Urban Bush Women, The Illustrious Blacks, and MVMNT PHLSPY.

Currently, Greg is the Founder and primary visionary of artistic lab/creation space The Golden Ratio Project, where he has developed his own brand of barbering utilizing aesthetics, art, music and storytelling to create a personable therapeutic experience. He recently self-produced the art exhibition 33, commemorating his 33 years of barbering in collaboration with his visual artistry. Greg Purnell believes all forms of art and expression are united by our dreams, and it is through technique and passion that our dreams become realities.

International singer, songwriter, and choreographer Tendayi Kuumba is a Spelman College graduate with a BA in Drama with a Dance Concentration. Her training as a youth ranges from Buffalo Inner City Ballet, Ballethnic, Callanwolde Fine Arts, and Moving in the Spirit. As a Brooklyn transplant, her choreographic roots embody a long throughline of musical exploration, vocal portals, response of the body and storytelling. Her past choreographic works have been on multiple platforms including Danspace, HiArts, Harlem Stage and BRICLab.

Frequent collaborators include Greg Purnell and Courtney Cook. She has worked with choreographers Marjani Forté-Saunders, ASÉ Dance Theater Collective, Nathan Trice/ Rituals Performance Project, Jim Findlay’s “Electric Lucifer” workshop and Philadelphia Operas’ We Shall Not be Moved, directed by Bill T. Jones. In 2018, she toured as one of two backup singer/dancers on the American Utopia World Tour of the Talking Heads leading man and Grammy Nominated singer/songwriter/recording artist David Byrne and has gone on to make her debut in David Byrne’s America Utopia on Broadway.

In other spaces, she’s generating and co-creating artistic collaborations and spaces such as The Golden Ratio Project, in Brooklyn, NY alongside Greg Purnell. Recent projects include U.F.O (Unidentified Fly Objects): Stardust Melanin under the Gibney New Voices: Spotlight residency Spring 2020 and Danspace Project’s Platform 2020: Utterances from the Chorus in collaboration with Greg Purnell. As well as being a mindful member of the Voice/Body Danspace platform, a creator within 100 Years/100 Women with Urban Bush Women, and a practitioner in Okwui Okpokwasili and Peter Borns’ Sitting on a Man’s Head.  She  gives thanks and blessings for life, love, breath, and the pursuit of happiness through creativity.

Woman looking at the camera thoughtfully, with her hands by her face.Photo by Hayim Heron Photography.

Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

Yes, we were a part of other productions at Danspace that were canceled. We ended up turning our production that was set to premiere at Gibney into a digital sharing instead. Also Greg’s scheduled art exhibition in Soho was canceled.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

Greg’s beginning as a barber from age 12 opened many other artistic outlets. His particular practices include as visual art, writing, and music.

Tendayi has performed as a dancer from age 3 and vocalist from age 7.  Various dance schools, performing art schools, and mentorships have informed her practices.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

Collectively, we are diving into different art forms and practices to create a multimedia experience–specifically looking at how dance, music, storytelling, visual art, mixed media, and technology intersect. We’re envisioning a more full-bodied experience that can translate across multiple platforms. Also, how we can create these experiences and stories with the social and technological changes occurring in today’s world?

Black and white photo of a Black man smiling at the camera with his hand on his chin.Photo by AngieMLV Photography.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

We most care about the healing of our people and community. Our practices consist of questioning the what and whys of the world we live in. They represent ways of addressing voids that exist and broadening perspectives and connections.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

We are remaining open to different forms of artistic expression. Our practices give us ways to adapt in the ever so changing climate we’re in. We are immersing ourselves in learning and understating our connecting to technology and how we can use it to push deeper into our art making.

 

To read all of Eva Yaa Asantewaa’s Artists Reach Out interviews, visit infinitebody.blogspot.com.

 

Top photo by AngieMLV Photography.