Old piano inside of the abandoned Bethel AME Church, restored for the exhibit "Bynam Cutler," and part of "Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn"
Old piano inside of the abandoned Bethel AME Church, restored for the exhibit “Bynam Cutler,” and part of “Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn”

With all that we have ever read, discussed or debated around the veracity of genetic memory or déjà vu, one thing we can agree upon in general is we are connected to a past that transcends our physical being.

That same feeling of metaphysical connectivity and recollection is pushed forward and explored in “Bynum Cutler,” one of four live art installations in the exhibit Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radica Brooklyn, produced by Creative Time and Weeksville Heritage Center, and currently running Fridays through Saturdays, 12:00pm – 6:00pm through October 12.

In the exhibit, award-winning cinematographer Bradford Young created a three-channel video installation inside the historic Bethel Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal Church, also the former site of PS 83, located 1630 Dean Street in Crown Heights– a media arts presentation where past is inextricably bound to present.It is a tribute to the black women, men and children who embarked on countless journeys in search of refuge, wherein for so many of them, that refuge—both physically and spiritually— was found in the church.

Inside of the abandoned Bethel AME Church

Jean Cooney, project manager for Creative Time, said, when they first walked into Bethel AME, it was in a state of total disrepair. But even as they cleaned it up for the exhibit, they were careful to leave in tact as much as they could, in an effort keep the integrity of the space and preserve its rich history.“For most people, it’s just an abandoned building,” said Cooney. “I’m sure people walk by this building maybe a hundred times a day and don’t realize that this building was built in the 1880s; that it was once called Colored School #2; it then was sold to the church in the 70s for $1, and then they had services here for three decades.”

As you enter the church exhibit, within just a few steps, you are transported immediately to another time: The peeling walls are openings to the stories of the past, and the hardened and crumbling structures are the bones of someone who once stood tall.

Inside there is a single piano, dark red carpet, low lighting and a row of pews where visitors can sit and watch Young’s film. The three-panel black-and-white movie lingers lovingly between the elder faces of the Bethel AME congregation, and scenes inside of the church and the surrounding blocks outside.

“The portraitures in the film are called ‘living legends,’ meaning they have been a part of the congregation for 50 years or more, so they are rooted in this neighborhood as well as the congregation,” said Cooney.

Two panels of the three-panel film installation, “Bynam Cutler,” produced by Bradford Young for “Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn”

The film has no narration. Instead you are immersed in a lush soundtrack of electronic string, layered over a quiet cacophony of whispering voices.“It represents all of the monuments and narratives that have not been told,” said Cooney.

“[The exhibit] should evoke a general feeling that when you’re walking these streets—whether it’s this neighborhood or other neighborhoods— that you are walking amongst stories and histories of the past … to send you away with maybe more questions than answers, a general sense that something wonderful was once here

To read about the “funk” portion of the exhibit, “Century 21: Bed-Stuy Rhapsody in Design,” click here. To read about the “jazz” portion of the exhibit through the “OJBK Radio,” installation, click here. To read about the “medicine” portion of the exhibit realized through “The Free People’s Medical Clinic,” click here.

For more information on Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn, visit their website.


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