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Monét Noelle Marshall’s Buy My Soul and Call It Art Forces an Overdue Conversation About the Local and National Art Scene’s Racist Framework

Kevin J. Rowsey II Jan 31, 2018 7:00 AM

Monét Noelle Marshall, creator and director of the performance art installation Buy My Soul and Call It Art, immerses visitors in the problematic relationship between black art and the arts and entertainment industry. Historically and now, large radio, TV, and multimedia platforms benefit disproportionately from black art, with little to no dialogue on the issue. The discussion is usually shallow, dominated by Grammy snub reactions, artist complaints about streaming services (TIDAL is black-owned and gives artists a larger streaming percentage), and debates about whether Migos had the right to sell black culture to the mainstream—twice. Buy My Soul and Call It Art deepens the conversation.

Collaborating with amazing, diverse local artists including singer-songwriter A.yoni Jeffries, poet Mariah M., and Durham's all-star DJ, Gemynii, Marshall utilizes the cast to embody the emotion of what it means to be a black artist in an area like Durham. She brilliantly places the audience inside the experience of the black artist in a way that has never been done before in the Triangle. The show forces you to question the worth of art, the value society places on the black community, and what role the consumer plays in the battle for artist equality.

Upon walking into the Living Arts Collective, you're given an amount of play money based on what you think black art is worth. You then spend it in the world Marshall has created: choosing if and how to participate in a charged art auction, for example. Each part of the installation is a sharp comment on some aspect of how the mainstream treats black people and culture. Each person's experience of the show will be different, and it begs to be seen more than once to grasp every detail and nuance.

With a topic so complex, the show does not come without an appropriate amount of controversy. While it's engaging from entrance to exit, I found the conversations afterward most interesting. From my perspective as a black artist in this community, the experience portrayed in Buy My Soul and Call It Art is an everyday reality. I left the Living Arts Collective dazed, trying to understand what was part of the show and what was uncovered in my own reality. I haven't experienced something as horrifyingly relevant to my life since watching Get Out.

For those who call themselves allies to black artists in the Triangle, seeing this show is mandatory. Especially in Durham, with its growing mainstream acceptance of gentrification, Buy My Soul and Call It Art demands that we ask ourselves who benefits from this progress. While Marshall says this is a part of a series of performance exhibits, it stands on its own, making us face the pain of our past and present with few to no answers about where the future is headed. I am excited to see Marshall expand on what should be revered as a necessary first step toward a progressive dialogue.