Earlier this year, performance artist Mal Jones and visual artist Overstreet Ducasse were asked by Tony Allegretti, executive director of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, to participate in a cultural exchange pilot program in Bristol, England.
“Choosing the artists had a lot to do with Bristol and the vibe of the city,” Allegretti explains. “They just elected their first black mayor, who is interested in social issues in Bristol but is also a student of social justice, equity, and inclusion in the U.S. as well. I can’t deny that the LIFT show at the Cummer helped me get comfortable with the two artists together.”
It was the first visit to the U.K. for both of them. “We are like-minded individuals and we have respect for each other,” says Jones of Ducasse, “I was a fan of his artwork before I knew him.” Of Jones, Ducasse explains, “He loves art, I love music. He creates music. I create art. It worked out perfectly.” Both express their appreciation to Allegretti, noting that he has always been supportive of their work.
Ducasse took his solo exhibition, Stony the Road We Trod, to Bristol. Most of his recent work is mixed media on wood. However, “The art budget wouldn’t permit me to ship all those wooden pieces,” says Ducasse. So he gathered
everything he could by contacting collectors who owned his pieces, then photographer Doug Eng took photos of some of the works and reproduced them on canvas … “He did such a phenomenal job,” says Ducasse. “In Bristol, they provided me a residency at Spike Island (spikeisland.org.uk), which is very similar to CoRK, but like on a million-dollar budget. “
Mal Jones performed his hip-hop piece “Lyricist Live” alongside the exhibition. “I was rapping, just setting the ambiance for Overstreet’s pop up gallery,” says Jones. The next day they presented at Burges Salmon, the largest law firm in Bristol. “We performed on the rooftop. I came to
present a video piece I put together for my speak [sic] and then did my Shakespeare [Lives] piece,” says Jones.
“The people there were so nice and so receptive. Mal’s performance was spectacular, and everybody loved it. It was a beautiful day,” recalls Ducasse.
“I came there to let them know what I’m doing in Duval with hip hop,” Jones continues. “My mission was to expose to them to how hip-hop can be used to educate. It’s not just a
performance art; it has educational applications. They learn communication, language, taking turns, and self-expression. There’s safety together. They absorb the information a lot faster when there is a beat to it, its rhythm and its rhyme.”
Director, playwright and improv coach Barbara Colaciello was instrumental in the idea of “Shakespeare Lives.” “Barbara asked if I would collaborate with her on Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, celebrated in the Cummer Museum and Gardens, and I thought to myself how dope would it be to recite an original ode to Shakespeare,” explains Jones.
“I thought of Mal because I had this rap I had written for a Shakespeare Festival at Players by the Sea that had one hundred kids involved,” says Colaciello. “I strung together words and phrases that Shakespeare coined. I handed that over to Mal as a jumping off point and he ran with it. He got a great response.”
As a visual artist, Ducasse sees part of his work as
performance art. “I think I was performing also, because by that time the artwork was already up and I have a story for every painting. So I felt like my performing was storytelling. The history behind a painting, the history of hip-hop and how it’s influenced my artwork,” says Ducasse. “The visual artist is not literally working at the time, but the painting speaks all the time,” adds Jones.
Both artists look to their fathers as their inspiration.
Article written by Jim Alabiso