Last week during lunchtime, a crew clad in hooded black robes with their faces painted like tribal warriors drove through the streets of Uptown playing drums in the back of an old military vehicle. Their strange appearance was jarring to some in their vanilla, business casual surroundings. The group's leader, Andy the Doorbum, stood with a commanding presence and unknown purpose, like a vagabond shaman abruptly bursting into a boardroom meeting. He pointed his finger at people who were staring until they turned away.
This performance was a guerilla portion of what Andy has called an "art war invasion of Charlotte." His collective, called Alien/Native Movement, has prepared an onslaught of in-your-face art events to take place this month all over the city.
It began April 1 with a mystical opening ceremony at Snug Harbor, in which attendees burned an item sacred to them in a fire, ostensibly to demonstrate their ability to give up material objects and still be left with the memories that were attached to them.
Since that night, there have been street and drive-by performances across the metro area, a gallery show at Twenty Two, musical performances and even a dramatic pitbull rescue, and we're not halfway into the month yet. Other events announced include a concert at McColl Center, a music residency at Snug Harbor every Wednesday night, a performance art showcase with Triptych Collective, an interactive theater concept and a march on uptown. Dozens of artists have descended from cities like Los Angeles, Detroit and Nashville to participate. Some are setting aside packed schedules and paying gigs to be here instead, like hip-hop artist and label owner, Ceschi.
But why? What's the purpose? And why Charlotte?
"Alien/Native Movement speaks to the dichotomy of being native to a place, but feeling alien to it," Andy says. "Being different, and proud, yet still feeling invested in your community."
He thinks Charlotte was perfect for this movement because there's nothing like it here. "It's liberating to be in a place without a plethora of creative things happening because we can forge its reputation. There's no barrier or bar. We have a vested interest in what people think of this city. It's Bank of America's city, it's Billy Graham's city, but it's just as much our city as it is theirs. We have a say in its reputation too, but we have to say it. Until you go out on the streets and scream it, people will never know."
Once he expressed his plan for a month-long art war, many artists jumped onboard and began collaborating with him. "These aren't really even my concepts anymore. I just wanted to be the catalyst to get other artists doing stuff like this. I think people hold back too much. I don't want them to hold back or feel embarrassed about their ideas. It's a waste of time."
What about the guerilla tactics of the Charlotte invasion? "I love random people on the street seeing us," Andy says. "They may never know what it was, but they can't unsee it, and they can decide for themselves what they want it to be."
What it could be is intimidating. Andy in full costume looks otherworldly, like something from a dream — or nightmare. During the reception for his show at Twenty Two, I watched him enter the gallery and walk over to a friend who had her backed turned. As she turned and saw him, she jumped and audibly gasped, a momentary response of instinctual fright before her thoughts kicked in. Once they did, she broke into a smile and hugged him.
A person in South End who saw an Alien/Native group performing in the truck was so frightened by their appearance, they called the police. Andy said CMPD followed them sporadically around the city for the rest of the day, even after he explained they meant no harm and it was clear they weren't breaking any laws. This is how underexposed to performance art we are around here — we call the cops because people in face paint are playing the drums.
Still, some of our more progressive-minded citizens have better judgement when they see them for the first time. A woman on Facebook told the story of her 6-year-old asking what they were and after she explained they were performance artists, he said he wished he saw more of them. And that's exactly why Andy says he started this.
"I wished I saw street performance and more art in Charlotte, so I took it upon myself to make it happen. I didn't necessarily want to be the ring leader, but someone had to get the ball rolling. When you have creative ideas, you can suppress them and work a desk job or you can express them without fear. At the end of the day, if all this doesn't make a difference, I had a lot of fun with my friends and that's just as cool."