ArtYard is pleased to announce a new exhibition featuring artist Sebastienne Mundheim drawn from her new multidisciplinary work Kea and the Ark, exploring the life of Newark ark-builder Kea Tawana.
Kea and the Ark, on view in ArtYard’s Laboratory Gallery through Sunday, July 23, features puppets and video documentation from Mundheim’s work-in-progress performances at ArtYard’s McDonnell Theater in early May.
“Her ark was an act of protest, a memorial, an obsessive act of doing, an attempt to find home,” Mundheim said of Kea Tawana. “The city government condemned the ark, so Kea disassembled it herself and sold the remains for firewood. We met her through what was left behind, her stories, and a few of her things. The performance is a poem in solidarity with Kea and in her honor.”
Included in the exhibition are puppets constructed from paper, masking tape, and other materials. A half-human-sized puppet representing Kea with a strikingly realistic face wears a paper bag trench coat and black paper pants and is placed among several animals from the performance, including a bear, owl, and a towering packrat skeleton. In the center of the space overhead is a cityscape of Newark made from twigs and tape that puppeteers beautifully transformed into an ark during the performance.
ArtYard supports the incubation of new work and commissioned White Box Theatre to engage with the mystery of Kea Tawana, a social activist, self-taught engineer, and ark-builder who made an 86-foot-long, three-story high ship from salvaged wood, stained glass, and other materials from abandoned buildings in Newark’s Central Ward in the 1980s. During Mundheim’s first residency at ArtYard in 2022, she brought her early research to community engagement workshops in story-writing, object-making, and movement. Kea and the Ark emerged from that residency, and additional residencies at ArtYard this spring.
The performances of Kea and the Ark began with Mundheim sharing a slideshow of photographs from her visit with items from Kea Tawana’s archives, now housed at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin. Through puppetry, movement, storytelling, and live music, the performance takes audiences from the Doolittle raid in Japan, across the Pacific, to a Hopi reservation, into Newark in the 60s, and to the quiet of the Passaic River.
An original score for Kea and the Ark was created by Daniel de Jesus. Performers and puppeteers included Candra Kennedy, Payton Smith, and Harlee Trautman, a core collaborator in creating the work.
“[Mundheim and collaborators] have woven together fact, fiction, and powerful imagery to create a beguiling and lucid portrait of this elusive figure,” said Whit MacLaughlin, an OBIE and Barrymore Award-winning Artistic Director of New Paradise Laboratories. “The result is almost a séance, rendering Kea, a ghostlike but imposing figure, into a forcefully real presence. Quiet, insightful storytelling and lyrics, written and delivered by Mundheim in a respectful, almost scholarly way, combine with an ethereal musical score, and surprising, always evocative puppetry, to create a difficult-to-describe weave of subtle and not-so-subtle effects. One might call the style ‘epic poetry of objects,’ or ‘cinematic sculpture.’”
An opening reception for Kea and the Ark and ArtYard’s two summer exhibitions — Natalie de Segnozac: Evidence and Where There’s Smoke, a project by Lance Weiler — is 6 to 8 PM Saturday, June 17.
ArtYard offers abridged hours during show change through June 17 of 11 to 5 PM Wednesdays to Sundays. We recommend visitors traveling to ArtYard call to confirm hours in case of an installation-related closing. ArtYard’s regular gallery hours are 11 AM to 5 PM Wednesdays to Sundays and until 7 PM on Late Night Thursday.
ArtYard is an incubator for creative expression and a catalyst for collaborations that reveal the transformational power of art. To learn more about ArtYard, the exhibitions and to register for related events, visit www.artyard.org.
White Box Theatre is a project-based visual and performing arts company founded by artistic director Sebastienne Mundheim whose multidisciplinary work integrates puppetry, dance, storytelling, and installation.