September 15, 2019 - Philadelphia Contemporary - Elissa Blount Moorhead and Bradford Young: Back and Song
September 15, 2019

Philadelphia Contemporary

Girard College Chapel

Elissa Blount Moorhead and Bradford Young
Back and Song
October 5–27, 2019

Opening Reception: October 4, 7–9pm
Artists Talk: October 25, 6–8pm, Filmmakers Elissa Blount Moorhead and Bradford Young in conversation with Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens
Thomas Jefferson University, Center City Campus

Girard College Chapel
2101 S College Avenue
Philadelphia, PA
United States
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Open Saturdays and Sundays, 12-6pm

Philadelphia Contemporary and Thomas Jefferson University are pleased to present Back and Song, a meditative four-channel film and art installation by filmmakers Elissa Blount Moorhead and Bradford Young. Reflecting on the complex and profound connections between health, wellness, and the American black experience, the kaleidoscopic installation considers the labor and care provided by generations of black healers—doctors, nurses, midwives, morticians, therapists, and health aides—and their histories of contribution to, and resistance of, the flawed and discriminatory structures of Western medicine.

Working with archivists from around the world, Moorhead and Young have synthesized photographs of quotidian black family life into a time-based archive of expression. Paired with new footage, these archival compilations consider forms of movement, rest, and ecstatic experience as crucial modes of healing and attunement to the body. Across four film channels, music, sound therapy, ritual dance, and meditation from across the African diaspora are brought together, presented as a spectrum of individual and communal pursuits of well-being. Cumulatively, these archival compilations demonstrate the complexity and interconnectedness of different forms of treatment, and how the pursuit of health is at the root of how life, breath, joy, and pain manifest in the black experience.

"In this kaleidoscopic film project, Moorhead and Young bring a complex cinematic vision to a historic setting," says Nato Thompson, the Sueyun & Gene Locks Artistic Director of Philadelphia Contemporary. "We are proud to commission these artistic visionaries to consider the broad implications of wellness in the black experience."

Back and Song will be presented at Girard College, originally chartered in 1833 as a school for “white, male orphans,” and later a pivotal site in the movement to legally desegregate all Philadelphia schools. Filling its central auditorium with sound and moving image, Back and Song will transform the Chapel at Girard College into a curative space of rejuvenation.

About Elissa Blount Moorhead
Elissa Blount Moorhead is an artist and producer exploring the poetics of quotidian Black life, to emphasize gestural dialectics of quiet domesticity and community building. She dwells in both immutable Black culture and the impermanence of its physical manifestations.

Moorhead has created public art, exhibitions, and cultural programs for the last 25 years. She is currently a principal partner at TNEG film studios, with Arthur Jafa and Malik Sayeed. TNEG asserts that a cinema calibrated to the cultural, socioeconomic, and existential particulars of Black being is not only possible but inescapably the way forward toward a viable Black cinema. Moorhead co-founded Red Clay Arts in NYC. She has co-produced and curated over 20 exhibitions and multimedia projects including Random Occurrences; Cat Calls (Street Harassment project); Practicum; FunkGodJazzMedicine; and Art in Odd Places. She was awarded the USA Artist Fellowship in 2018, Saul Zaentz Innovation Fellowship (2017), Ford Foundation /Just Films/Rockwood Fellowship (2017) and is a Ruby Award (2016), Creative Capital (2019), and Baker Award winner (2019). She is currently producing a documentary film on Gil Scott Heron and an AR/projection installation called As of A Now. She is the author of P is for Pussy, an illustrated “children’s” book and is featured in the new anthology How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance released in March 2019.

About Bradford Young
Originally from Louisville, KY, Bradford Young is a cinematographer who studied under the tutelage of filmmaker Haile Gerima.

His recent film contributions include: Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us; Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA for achievement in cinematography); Ron Howard’s Solo A Star Wars Story; Ava DuVernay’s Selma, (for which Bradford was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography in a Motion Picture); J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year; David Lowrey’s Ain’t them Bodies Saints, and Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George, both of which won him Sundance US Dramatic Competition Excellence in Cinematography awards (2013). Other films include Dee Rees’ Pariah, (for which he won the 2011 Sundance US Dramatic Competition Excellence in Cinematography award), Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere, Tina Mabry’s Mississippi Damned, Paola Mendoza’s Entre Nos and Andrew Dosunmu’s Restless City.

Bradford is an 2014 inductee into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a 2015 inductee into the American Society of Cinematographers.

About Philadelphia Contemporary
Founded in 2016, Philadelphia Contemporary presents visual art, performance art, and spoken word across the city of Philadelphia. A nomadic contemporary art organization with ambitions to establish a freestanding, globally oriented and locally aware museum, Philadelphia Contemporary has pioneered a vibrant and sustainable model based on partnerships and collaborations. Having commenced pop-up programming in October 2016, Philadelphia Contemporary continues to develop an ambitious roster of projects that will be mounted in the coming years, while planning for a permanent home in a new building.

About Thomas Jefferson University
Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) is a leader in interdisciplinary, professional education. Jefferson, home of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College and the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce, is a preeminent university delivering high-impact education in 160 undergraduate and graduate programs to 8,400 students in architecture, business, design, engineering, fashion and textiles, health, science and social science. The new Jefferson is re-defining the higher education value proposition with an approach that is collaborative and active; increasingly global; integrated with industry; focused on research across disciplines to foster innovation and discovery; and technology-enhanced. Jefferson Humanities & Health, a division of the Office of Student Life & Engagement, supports student involvement in the arts and humanities to promote essential skills related to providing care, including close observation, critical thinking, communication and empathy. Learn more at

Press Inquiries
Ed Winstead, Director, Cultural Counsel, ed [​at​]

Philadelphia Contemporary
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Back and Song
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