Marching On

African-American marching bands have long been powerful agents of cultural and political expression. These performances celebrate cultural identity while also asserting collective visibility and rights to public space. 

Historically rooted in military training, the marching band performances that animated streets around the U.S. offered sanctioned means for African-Americans to gain access to public spaces that had been severely limited by Jim Crow racial segregation. From the end of the Civil War through and early decades of the twentieth century, men donning military uniforms and women dressed in the colors of religious and civic associations marched to publicly assert solidarity against racial oppression while simultaneously celebrating the rich cultural expressions of black music and performance.

In the vibrant black crossroads of Harlem, marching thrived as a versatile medium that could merge the sounds of ragtime and jazz, while also serving to publicize the political causes of figures like Marcus Garvey. In these performances, acts of militancy and civil disobedience could be cloaked by military precision and the steady cadence of marching men, women and children. Drawing from these multi-layered histories, the designs of the costumes and choreography for Marching On play with the theme of camouflage as it relates to questions of public visibility and access. Performances of Marching On took place in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, with costumes merging the geometric patterns of the park's paving with contemporary military camouflage. The performance’s choreography also draws from traditional military forms and formations to both blend and stand out in city’s public spaces and streets.

Marching On was inaugurated with a series of performances by the Marching Cobra’s presented by the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance as part of Performa 17. The exhibition Marching On: The Politics of Performance will be on view at The Storefront for Art and Architecture from April 10 - June 9, 2018.



Artistic Direction – Mabel O. Wilson and Bryony Roberts


Commissioning Institution – Storefront for Art and Architecture


Choreography – Terrel Stowers and Kevin Young of the Marching Cobras of New York


Performers – the Marching Cobras of New York


Costume Sourcing – Joseph Blaha


Cape Construction – Colin Davis Jones Studios


Fabric Printing – Design2Print


Graphic Design – Nikki Chung and Dungjai Pungauthaikan of Once-Future


Research Assistance – Mariam Abd El Azim of Storefront for Art and Architecture, and Mayra Mahmood, graduate student at Columbia GSAPP


Production Assistance – Max Lauter of Storefront for Art and Architecture, Sasha Okshetyn and Maaike Gouwenberg of Performa


Video - Feran Mendoza and Chris Balmer


Photography Jenica Heintzelman

  • courtesy of Bryony Roberts
  • courtesy of Bryony Roberts
  • Paula Court courtesy of Performa
  • Paula Court courtesy of Performa
  • Paula Court courtesy of Performa
  • Paula Court courtesy of Performa