Ja’Tovia Gary’s An Ecstatic Experience (2015), on the other hand, captures the artist’s self-described “radical Black femme gaze” through an assemblage of found and hand-painted footage.
The opens to the hypnotic strains of Alice Coltrane’s “Journey to Satchidananda” (1971)—a musical search, as the title indicates, for truth, knowledge, and bliss. Black-and-white found footage of Black churchgoers is interspersed with short hand-painted passages of cascading swaths of purple and yellow, flashes of turquoise blue fields filled with black dots, falling red stars, and shimmering circles resembling petri dishes filled with purple spores. These moments of abstraction vibrate with the resonances of Black kinship, resilience, self-determination, and revolution that Gary presents throughout her assemblage. Ruby Dee appears in a television clip from 1965 performing an account written by Fannie Moore, who was born a slave. Gary scratches radiating lines and halos of dust on and around Dee’s head and face and eyes as the actress embodies Moore’s declaration of the end of slavery for herself and her children, weeping, “I’m free! I’m free! I’m free! I’m free!” Behind Dee is the vocal group Voices Inc., who begin to sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as the film is draped in streaks of blue and purple paint applied by Gary. The artist contrasts these images with a talking-head interview with political activist Assata Shakur about her escape from federal prison in 1979, and video coverage of imperiled Black bodies protesting police brutality in Baltimore and Ferguson. We hear the refrain “Glory, glory, hallelujah” as we see a Black man hurl a garbage can at a line of armored police officers. In another shot, a Black man smashes in the rear wind- shield of a police cruiser. An Ecstatic Experience shows Black joy and solemnity, rage and righteous defiance, coursing through the reality of a history of and continued failure to protect the rights and lives of Black people in the United States.