Monday, March 2, 2015

History, Diaspora, & Political Smorgasbord In NYC

Freedom Journey. 
Black History/Herstory is not over just because twenty eight day month passes at midnight. Stories go on each day. Stories of life and death. Of people making history before February 1st and after February 28th. Us vegans, artists, writers, performers, creators of every waking hour not only vow continuance of to making our dreams come true, but that of others thirsting for eye opening change and awareness- awareness of creativity, health, and strength. We must engage our minds and hearts with nourishing truth and beauty within ourselves. Then we shall see a light that shines so bright.
On this final day of short month granted to celebrating African descended ancestry, I share Thursday's overwhelming haze of glorious endeavors. A challenge to visit three museums seated in different parts of NYC, I met goals to fruition, determined to see what was set out to be seen. It was a most esteemed journey granting influential discoveries and a new crop of artists all over the globe branching out and sharing origin complexities. They've widened the meaning of art- tying creative vision with anthropology, science, and narrative together. Sewed origin threads remain stagnant in my mind, flowing with a fluid poignancy gratifying thoughts and dreams.
I got to New York City at 1:20 PM on Thursday. Missed the earlier bus and would have been there three hours prior. Still, nothing stopped determination to visit three museums. Three. Three before the clock struck 11:10 PM. If I missed the 11:10 Megabus, I would be stuck in chilly NYC until 6AM. Then again, they do have a 24 hour Starbucks/Sephora so....

 I tried the new coconut milk by the way. The perfect afternoon lightning bolt to get my feet ready for a lot of moving. Whilst sipping, I mapped out my intended destinations starting with New York Historical Society Museum, then New Museum, and finally ending at Studio Harlem. 
It is a challenge being an artist, knowing that MET is across the street, seducing good intentions. I ignored the little voice and came right inside New York's Historical Society, a place filled with New York history. I learned that slavery was abolished here long before Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War. Yet the grisly details of violent deaths of a people seen equivalent to animals, sometimes less so, hurt me like a cut that never goes away. 
Miniature watercolor portraits of former Haitian born slave Pierre Touissant and his wife Juliette Noel. Artist Anthony Meucci, famous for rendering George Washington and so forth painted these little treasures. That means they were well worth cementing into history. Their distinguished, quality clothing showcases their esteem and privilege after being freed in NYC. At 42, Touissant is profiting big as a hairdresser, but eventually began sharing the wealth, becoming a major philanthropist alongside his Mrs.
I almost missed the clock. One has to kneel down and stare at fine white ivory, marred by dirt and minor melted damage, with its devout hands stopping at Roman numeral 9:04 AM. So piercing to the finder of this object, to behold witness to such a monumental catastrophe that still resonates in the minds and hearts of millions. 
Part of a fireman's truck, melted and torn apart by the devastation. Photographs behind document traumatic events of unforgotten 9/11.
Second floor awaited. Having seen Ava DuVernay's Academy Award winning film a few times, I can honestly say that Stephen Somerstein's long vaulted Selma photographs fulfilled excited expectation. It was like being behind the scenes of documented black and white footage the end of DuVeray's film hinted. Here in varied sizes, untitled images of people united for justice and equality. A great leader and his legion of devoted followers of all races, economic backgrounds, religion, and creed walking along promised land, singing and praising, hoping that "we shall overcome." Sights were wonderful to behold and treasure. 
A tender moment captured between Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr. In a room filled with other candid moments from that triumphant third march from Selma to Montgomery, there were pictorials of Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, James Baldwin, and countless other historical figures tucked inside these clean, immaculate white mats and black frames. 
If you have seen Selma's film poster, a film that has recently crossed the 50 million box office dollar mark, you will know this image and its pivotal meaning. 
I also crept inside the Chinese American Exhibit where there were reconstructions, original documents, inspired paintings, and photographs of Asian immigrants bringing families and culture into America. Here select few not only blossomed their own roots they made it their life's commitment to helping others whether it those still overseas or those already nearby needing assistance learning adaptation to new world.
First dilemma. My Metro Card was low on funds. All the machines were "out of order." Thankfully, the nearest station was another walk away. And this station wall paved in dirty shoe imprinted art form naturally caught my attention. 
I imagined people with purpose, just stamping their damp shoes here, leaving territorial "my feet was here" markers.
Directions are confusing instructions on Google. I had to stop inside a gas station where the man said two streets upwards to Bowery Street. Yet two streets upward I found Blick Art Supplies. An employee indicated that it was two blocks east. Yes! At near four PM, among thrift shops and furniture stores bringing life to old, dated construction, I found ship floating over New Museum. Founded by the late remarkable Marcia Tucker in 1977, a wonderful woman highlighted in the !Woman Art Revolution documentary, I was enthusiastic to spend time in the latest exhibit promising to be epic and profound. 
Fifty one artists from twenty seven different countries embody five floors of gallery space. Diversity and culture have been a celebrating part of New Museum's incredible history, a definitive mastery unlike most NYC museums celebrating male dominance. Here many are joined together in an amazing, unprecedented world that is both overwhelming and majestic. One feels like a small seed implanted in the richest soil and engaging art quenches curiosity and thirst for unknown. This exhibit engages viewers to perform more than typical tasks of deciphering art visually. We are encouraged to read, to listen, to feel. These notions are not entirely new, but it establishes a connection between the digital age of now, of being thrown so much information and having difficulty translating which deserves to be absorbed into broadening human mind.
Some unphotographed highlights includes Oliver Laric's compelling video Untitled metaphoric morphism animation. Images of characters familiar and otherwise shift and form from human to creature repeating and transforming roles of heroism and emotional layers. Daniel Steegman Mangrene's virtual reality, Phantom (kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) places viewers in false dimension of a beguiling forest setting. We must trust intuition as well as hold created imagery into highest regard. Under the glasses, our eyes look up, down, and all around. So captivating to be suspended in a space whilst also having to simultaneously pay attention to true predicament. I must have bumped into walls several times.  It was well worth seeing how art, science, and technology continued this teasing bridge. Definitely a fantastic must see!
Juliana Huxtable was definitely queen of the exhibit. First piece that greeted me on the second floor of Triennial: Surround Audience was Frank Benson's "Juliana," a work Huxtable herself posed for. It is sleek, metallic, stylish nude that embraces cultural identity and the world Huxtable invents in her prints and poetry. The braids and partly shaved scalp boldly showcases that hip nod to natural hair movement and the experimentation shouting hello to afro wearers and Poetic Justice braid lovers. 
She lies casual like a sphinx, curved and arched sophistication seeming like an exotic species arriving fresh off a shell like a Botticelli.
Nails of fingers and toes are expertly painted in this sapphire blue.
Huxtable's work stripping natural order of color and placing feminine figure dressed in psychedelic pants and yellow sports bra emerged in a surreal alien space. It calls to her interest in Octavia Butler's scientific fantasy world, a place not of earth, but of something far more utopian.
Green She-Hulk fleshy figure with thick, super long yellow braids and black lipstick. Again placed in an abstract world of atmospheric clouds and strange salmon colored ground. Her pose is sleek and sensual. Whereas tilted three quarter view of her face is turned away, communicating within body and surroundings.
Poetry laid over surreal space. And yes, I read the whole beautiful piece. She told me to take time to breathe in this text, to let go of time and just engulf the words: "black unicorns run freely. Bantu knots and bald heads with thickly lined lips occasion a moment to memorialize the hood surrealism of Hype Williams and the futures of Octavia Butler (and the images that front the covers of her books). Where the ontological chains of the Atlantic triangle reverberate  to shattering point in patterns, beats, rhymes, and technicolor insistence on a new new world where the common thread is shared with Missy when she says: I Can't Stand the Rain (Me I'm Super Fly).' Beyond the mountains, Aaliyah croons 'More Than A Woman' and broken staticy clips of Angela Davis speeches play on leftist AM radio provide the 'feels like' addition to the general climate reading of the morning weather."
Njideka Akunyili, an inspiration and reason for choosing PAFA as a school to further artistic education, made her presence known in a corner of the second floor. The way she layers color and collage transfers onto canvas is thoughtful and intriguing purpose. Human body and its interactions with surroundings are teased with acrylic and transfers yet she is so wise with precision and perspective that these integrated compositions appear to be realistic sense of space and time. Narrative ties together her personal history of Africa and living in America, blending together separate autobiographical backgrounds into one cohesive replay of past, present, and future. And We Begin To Let Go is a compilation of acrylic paint, charcoal, marble dust, collage, and transfers on paper. 
Sophia Al-Maria's work is comprised of cell phone stories that resemble bitmap pixel imagery. It is a critique of the texting and "selfie" age and how young women are pressured to growing up too fast. Between the little blinking squares are girls dancing or posing seductively. It blurs lines between adolescence and adulthood in this image based age. Innocence seems to fade earlier than normal due to consumption of what the cell phone now symbolizes.
The back of Juliana emerged right in front of a captivating CGI video piece. 
Sasha Brauing creates these Magritte conversational paradoxical acrylic paintings that are genderless and geometrical. Each piece displays some mathematical equation, some complex statement about human body-- the head being primary dominance. Language between light and dark, value and contrast are sophisticated elaborations forming three dimensional space. 
Antoine Catala combines science in Distant Feel, a fascinating, dimly lit E3 (which look the same in opposing directions). Under water sculpture inside an aquarium like infrastructure feature live multi-colored coral breezes through inner fans.
Tania Perez Condova's chasing, pausing, waiting is comprised of makeup (blush), cigarette ash, bird droppings, and black marble.
Casey Jane Ellison of Los Angeles created the ultimate doll experience. A doll unique to the artist's own persona with her black t-shirt and dark stained lip.  It's So Important To Seem So Wonderful II is a CGI animated film of a sardonic, wise-cracking, self-absorbed, potty mouthed cyber doll, separately facing three components.
She comes with bald life sized bust sans hands, messily displayed wig, iPad, and this matching (fully haired) It's So Wonderful To Seem So Wonderful USB port with a lower body snapping it into protective place. First of all, I wonder if it works and secondly, if she is selling her own line of CGI inspired doll.
In Not Yet (Nobody Knows Why Not), performance artist Donna Kukuma has her face and palms masked in red paint, standing still with eyes closed as individuals walk by, some even staring curiously. Others pay no mind. Kukuma is speaking on awareness, awareness of human body and mind, awareness of that body and mind inside societal framework. Now this video filmed in Uhuru Park in Nairobi is to be fifteen minutes documenting this conscious public intervention.
Verana Dangler, Namedropping, mixed media and polyester resin.
Avery Singer's black and white acrylic paintings both Untitled.
In between walking up the floors, viewers were subjected to bright green stairwell and loud music.
Checking out Martine Syms conceptual based work on the art of sitcoms. The artist has her own space, between glass doors separate from the gallery. On one side are two large flat screens showcasing pixelated urban shows like "Girlfriends." Pilot scripts of Seinfield, Cheers, and Community lay atop counter. The other side has framed props and text facts. For example Queen Latifah's starring vehicle "Living Single" was to be called "My Girls."
The memorable fat red caps font dangling over white text imprinted on a denim jacket.
Girlfriends is playing. It reminds me of frustration. That frustration of the TV turning digital that forced every American to buy a black box and an antenna.
I admit, I almost took one, but these are not to be touched by viewers. Only draws in the longing to open book pages, feel the thin leaflet between hands to read and envision the unseen story floating into imagination.
It was a near miss. At six PM, I contemplated whether to attend or not, having heard Titus Kaphar speak briefly on The Jerome Project's mission last spring in a special lecture at PAFA. Yet some inkling whispered that attending would probably gift something stronger, more powerful than what he delivered in the past.That inkling proved to be correct.
Titus speaking on work created during his Studio Harlem internship back in the early 2000's. And yes that does include a unique rendering of Marie Guillemine-Benoist's Portrait of A Negress, one of my most favorite period paintings of dark skinned women painted by an aristocratic white woman.  It is at the Louvre and unfortunately I didn't see this in person while there circa 2009. Anyways, when Titus introduced how The Jerome Project's portrait series came about, it became a larger personal context enlightening perception. Opening my eyes to the new slavery, the New Jim Crow. He spoke rather candidly about not just strained family relationships, but on  art school world in general-- that the work he created no one could understood let alone had experienced. Here at Studio Harlem, however, was the necessary audience needed to define this new work, discuss prison systems and affect on families left behind. Each Jerome is a real person, a creation from a mugshot. Titus himself talked at length about his research, his communicating with inmates via letters to receiving a grant to film a documentary based on these interactions. The conversation gets further stimulating, further thought provoking, and moving with Yale instructor Vesla Mae Weaver tossing out cold hard facts about prison. Former imprisoned Mika'il  DeVeaux, vice president of Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc and Tina Reynolds, founder of  Women On The Rise Telling Herstory (WORTH) speak on finding life after confinement, about motivating others into finding their own paths in a system designed to make them less than a citizen. DeVeaux states the 13th Amendment, " Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." It is duly noted that prison systems are the new slavery, with communities based in low income, uneducated areas where police purposely implant themselves not to rescue but to indict. The conversation stirred quieted repression inside my mind and that of others surrounding me. It was such a gracious end, speaking to the beginning of this trek.
And I succeeded. Proud of myself for not changing my mind.
Tune in next week to see if I squeeze in the Taji Magazine Volume 2 Release Party and Studio Museum of Harlem's Artist Voice with Hank Willis and Leslie Hewitt before taking off to Canada for spring break.
P.S. Dear Webster please make "Herstory" a true, definable word. Tired of the red squiggly line telling me that it isn't so.

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