A piercing commentary on the forced immigration of African slaves to the United States, Ringgold's piece was the jumping-off point for The Quilt Project, a multidisciplinary conversation among black artists about contemporary African-American life. Out of this grew Pieces of Me, a performance that came together through a pool of local black talent, including choreographer Robert Moses, jazz musician Wayne Wallace, spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and a 10-piece orchestra.
Each of the choreographers created a segment of the production, which is set to live music and spoken word, to represent one of the quilt's main components: the statue, the drowning bodies, and the slave ship. Incorporating African influences -- traditional music and a griot (a native storyteller) -- as well as modern-day African-American elements like rap and jazz, Pieces of Me brings Ringgold's harrowing yet hopeful portrait to life.
"We're dealing with the trans-Atlantic journey of Africans to the Americas," says participating dance-maker Aisha Jenkins, "but we didn't come through Ellis Island. We came here as slaves." Like Ringgold, Jenkins was inspired by Baldwin, whom she knew as a child. Today she hopes to revisit the question he so tirelessly posed in his work: "How do we come out of bondage and into freedom?"