Abraham, who is African-American, went to high school in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, a historically black neighborhood, and in several of his previous works he drew on his experiences there. For “Pavement,” he went back to 1991, to reimagine the film “Boyz n the Hood,” about gangs in South Central Los Angeles, which was released that summer. He used the film as a springboard for examining life in Pittsburgh’s African-American communities in the Hill District and East Liberty Homewood and reflecting on the state of the black American experience in the two decades since its release.
But Abraham’s conception was even more sweeping. He also wanted to look at the history that had preceded the strife represented in “Boyz n the Hood,” and found a pertinent source in “The Souls of Black Folk,” the 1903 book by W. E. B. Du Bois, whose essays became instrumental in African-Americans’ struggle for equality in the twentieth century. Du Bois’s text made no appearance in “Pavement,” but Abraham included a quote from it in the program, which hovered over the dance: “Men call the shadow prejudice, and learnedly explain it as a natural defense of culture against barbarism, learning against ignorance, purity against crime, the ‘higher’ against the ‘lower’ races.” In the light of Du Bois’s words from more than a century ago, the realities as depicted in the film are sobering. From the perspective of 1991, when the ravages of H.I.V., crack addiction, and gang genocide were entrenched, not much seems to have gone right.