Sandra Bland’s death is shrouded in tragedy and mystery. In July 2015, Bland was driving on a rural Texas road when she was pulled over for failing to use her turn signal. An argument ensued and the 28-year-old was jailed for assault on an officer. Three days later, Bland was found dead in her jail cell of an apparent suicide, triggering a national outcry. Last month her family settled a wrongful death suit for $1.9 million.
In #SayHerName, one of two solo performances in “The Body Wails, The Body Restores” at Links Hall, Vershawn Ward of Red Clay Dance Company draws parallels between the circumstances surrounding Bland and the controversial criminalization of two black female activists: Angela Davis, a scholar who joined the U.S. Communist Party in the 1960s, and Assata Shakur, aunt of Tupac and a member of the Black Panther Party, who was convicted of killing a state trooper on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973 (she escaped from prison in 1979 and lives in Cuba, where she’s been granted political asylum).
Dressed in an orange jumpsuit and confined to a makeshift cell, Ward stands in contrast to video footage of Davis and Shakur projected onto the wall behind her. In most instances, Ward seems more like a shadow than a red-blooded performer, subdued to the point of surrender. Save for a few lines of spoken dialogue that speak broadly about the plight of black women in society, she’s inclined to let the footage do the talking. If walls could speak, Ward seems to wonder, what would they say? She’s joined by Lela Aisha Jones, who’ll perform a politically inspired work, Continuum of Action.
“The Body Wails, the Body Restores” Fri 10/28-Sun 10/30: 7 PM, Links Hall at Constellation, 3111 N. Western, 773-281-0824, linkshall.org, $15.