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To fully live in the present and prepare for the future, artists must first examine history. For this year’s WonderRoot Hughley Artist Fellows, reflecting on the past and applying it to today’s world are essential themes in their work.

Eleven Atlanta artists, chosen from across disciplines, will cap the yearlong professional development program with the exhibition Controlled Burn, opening this Thursday, June 27, at MOCA GA with a 6:30 p.m. reception and live performances (free for members, $8 for nonmembers, reservations suggested). The exhibit is up through August 24.

Among the 11 fellows are visual artists Robert Chamberlin, Charity Harris, Neka King, María Korol and Laura Vela; Ben Coleman, who does performance, sonic art, music and mixed-media installation projects; multi-instrumentalist and music producer Saira Raza, aka Sister Sai; Arianna Khmelniuk, who’s behind the multidisciplinary research and scent label ZAPAH_lab LLC; Talecia Tucker, who’s behind the unisex clothing and state-of-being company Pretty Major; and dance-makers Julie B. Johnson and Hez Stalcup.

Iman Person, Hughley Artist Fellowship director, says that many of these artists are involved in subjects linked to their personal identities — their homes, the histories of their native countries or chosen communities. Each artist, she says, “has this amazing ability to pluck something seemingly minute from their worldview, and expand it into something nuanced and provocative.”

The Hughley Fellowship, named for longtime Reynoldstown resident and community leader Young Hughley Jr., is designed to further WonderRoot’s mission of using art to make positive social change. It provides the artists with group symposia and roundtable discussions with leading arts professionals, one-on-one mentoring, a retreat and the MOCA GA group exhibition.

Dance-maker Johnson codirects the Georgia Incarceration Performance Project, which invites imprisoned individuals to collaborate with Spelman students and faculty. This experience inspired her latest work, Idle Crimes and Heavy Work.

The piece, examining Georgia’s history of incarceration and the convict-leasing of black women, will be performed in collaboration with Giwayen Mata, an all-female African dance and percussion ensemble. The interactive performance installation shines a light on racial and gendered violence and on the concept of black “idleness,” Johnson says. Movement in the piece comes from the story of Maddy Crawford, a black Georgian sentenced to life in prison in 1896 at age 16.

“Being a fellow carries the responsibility of self-reflexivity,” Johnson says, “to contemplate the ways I might be implicated in systems of oppression and the ways I can continuously and actively resist and work toward change through my creative practice.”

Dance-maker Stalcup began creating performance work in 2013 and has since done multiple experimental dance works for stages and gallery spaces. He’ll perform and tomorrow alongside dancer Laura Briggs. It reflects feelings associated with absence and the ways we can be defined — or not defined — by a fictional or physical space.

The piece comes from Stalcup’s experiences with death and absence. He hopes the work helps audiences shift slightly outside reality and, perhaps, notice something they usually overlook.

“The fellowship has reminded me that I am in good, if not brilliant, company in the community here,” Stalcup says. “I am deeply reassured by celebrating the successes and mulling over the hardships alongside so many smart, talented and caring souls.”


Senior editor Kathy Janich contributed to this article.

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