A video about African and African American women leaders and showcasing the work of a Columbus composer, visual artist and cello quartet has recently been released online.
Four Women is geared for audiences in kindergarten through college and features Columbus composer Mark Lomax, II’s eponymous work for four cellos performed by the Columbus Cello Quartet UCelli. Lomax’s on-screen commentary also teaches viewers about the achievements of four noted women of color from the 1600s to the present day.
The Johnstone Fund for New Music commissioned the video to honor Urban Strings, a Columbus string orchestra founded in 2007 to engage central Ohio minority youth. The video was recorded at the Columbus arts non-profit organization Streetlight Guild and was produced by the Columbus-based video production company Faseis and music recording studio Relay Recording.
The Johnstone Fund for New Music also commissioned Columbus artist Richard Duarte Brown to paint large portraits of each of the four women. Rendered in brightly colored acrylic and spray paints on canvas, the portraits appear prominently in the video.
Lomax’s Four Women cello quartet is one of the pieces in his 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12-album cycle of musical works that chronicle 400 years of African American history.
Each movement of the quartet was inspired by the life and contributions of a different African or African American woman, past or present.
“I thought it would be great to compose a four-movement piece that dealt with a different woman in a different generation, in a bookended structure that starts in Africa and ends in Africa,” Lomax said.
Four Women opens and closes with movements inspired by the 17th-century Angolan Mbundu diplomat and warrior Queen Nzinga and the present-day Nigerian feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In between are movements inspired by two African Americans, the early 20th-century journalist and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells Barnett and present-day American political activist/author Angela Davis.
In addition to showcasing an uninterrupted performance of Lomax’s Four Women, the video features performances of each movement individually, amplified by Lomax’s comments about the achievements of the woman who inspired it. Lomax also interviews Brown about his paintings and discusses how the inner workings of his musical score reflect the lives of the women who inspired Four Women.
“I really wanted to focus on not just the value these women added to the world, but the way in which their personal power was leveraged by them to get things done,” Lomax said.
As an extension of the video project, Brown has also created two coloring books for children. The books chronicle the making of the Four Women video and tell the story of the founding of Urban Strings by Columbus educator Catherine Willis. The coloring books will be available for purchase at Streetlight Guild.
A copy of the Four Women video and Lomax’s score will be donated to the Urban Strings library.
“All of the music is about African or African American women, and it’s composed by an African American composer,” said Lomax. “So just to hear the music of an African American composer written about black women is important in the development of young African American performers of classical music.”