X’ene’s Witness

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X’ene’s Witness is a contemporary opera conceived and directed by multidisciplinary artist Justen Leroy, and commissioned and presented by LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division).

A continuation of Leroy’s critically acclaimed installation Lay Me Down in Praise (2022) presented by the California African American Museum and Art + Practice, X’ene’s Witness employs sound as an entrypoint to emphasize Black Environmentalism within the Anthropocene, the current geological age in which humans are the foremost influence on climate and ecosystems.

Through the performance, Leroy aims to foreground the unfiltered emotion, a sensual reckoning, that can only exist at the juncture where words break down. Perhaps the current moment, in which we face the inconceivable scope of climate disaster, may only be felt. Utilizing sound and movement to fill the gap created by the failure of language, Leroy invokes the history of Black vocal traditions, particularly R&B and Soul vocal nuances that communicate resistance and liberation.

Composed by Leroy and Alexander Hadyn, the score alludes to contemporary anxieties and terror. Classical musician and performance artist X’ene Sky lends voice and piano as the oracle and vessel for Earth’s expression, while movement artist Qwenga interprets the grievances of the planet felt in the body. X’ene’s Witness is an attempt to create space where climate consciousness can be accessed without words, or frameworks–rather relying on sound to start conversation. Leroy contends that the musical stylings–the screams, vocal runs, wails–of Black vocalists can act as the score for the planet’s stirrings, felt in the tectonic shifts of the Earth, or the silent sighs of trees.

X’ene’s Witness is made possible with support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts, Marciano Art Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, and the MAP Fund, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Howard Gilman Foundation, and Mellon Foundation.

Special thanks to Ace Hotel Los Angeles.

Justen Leroy (b. 1994, Los Angeles) is a multidisciplinary artist and curator, currently living in Los Angeles, whose sonic and performance work investigates the traditions of Black sound as it relates to spirituality and geology. His most recent work, Lay Me Down In Praise, is a three-channel visual and sound installation that surveys our current climate crisis and environmental racism. Previously, his work has been exhibited as part of Hammer Museum’s Made In LA 2020 Biennial and in 2022 he co-curated NOAH DAVIS at The Underground Museum alongside Helen Molesworth. Currently, Leroy is Director of Public Programs and Community Outreach at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (MOCA).

X’ene Sky is a performance artist, pianist, singer, composer and educator based in Houston and Accra. Her work engenders a rhizomatic approach to the topics of enslaved Africans, queerness, inheritance, musical repetition, nature in particular the genealogy of trees and soil in West Africa and the American South. Her work relies heavily on play, movement and release via screaming, laughing, singing and other visceral modes of expression. She is concerned with questions of personality and who we are outside of our name, class and education. Her work currently centers around concealment, flying and the lineage of slave technologies.

Image by Micaiah Carter