PARTNERS NXTHVN is supported by significant funding from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, the RISC Foundation, Inc., and the State of Connecticut.
Support for NXTHVN’s Curatorial Fellowships is provided in part by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Three Studio Fellowships each year are supported by the TOY family in memory of Yves (1988–2011). NXTHVN’s programs are made possible by generous support from the Burger Collection, Hong Kong, the City of New Haven, the Ford Foundation, the J. P. Fletcher Foundation, and Stonesthrow Fund.
Additional support is also provided by the Christie’s Education Trust Reginald Browne Award, the Charles W. and Elizabeth D. Goodyear Foundation, the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT), Creative Capital, Dwight Hall at Yale, ForGood Fund, Jack Shainman Gallery, Kevin C. Thomas, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. We also want to acknowledge the necessary support of individual donors who make our work possible; our fiscal sponsor, the United Way of Greater New Haven; and the ongoing support of our Board of Directors: Pamela Franks, Bennet Grutman, Jock Reynolds, Alexandra Shor, and Ellen Susman.
4 Welcome to NXTHVN Jason J. Price
5 A Note from the Executive Director Nico Wheadon
6 Introduction Kalia Brooks Nelson Keely Orgeman
8 Unsettling the Archive and the Fullness Thereof Zalika Azim
24 The Myth of the Foreigner Riham Majeed
34 Unity as Myth Ana Tuazon
54 Biographies 56 Reference Image Credits
WELCOME TO NXTHVN In early 2017, Titus Kaphar, Jonathan Brand, and I had a conversation about a shared vision for our community: creating an artistic, creative, communal space in an uncommon place. The challenge was assembling the critical components required—institutions, collectors, artists, curators, public servants, and citizens— to make the vision real. The talking continued, the friendship grew. I committed to the vision of chasing ambition by building a space for early career artists and curators to hone their craft and ultimately settle in New Haven; of emboldening emerging artists through exposure to proprietary programming, access to state-of-the-art studio space, and early introductions to museums, funders, curators, galleries, critics and collectors; and of generating lasting value for our community by bridging the gap between our neighborhood and greater New Haven and providing a space for the next generation of innovators to collaborate, nurture and accelerate promising ideas. Time to act! We bought a building, we raised money, we hired an architect, we recruited the best. Together we executed the dream. I’m proud to play a part in the creation of something special, something innovative. And I’m grateful for the support of the individuals and institutions that had faith in an idea that grew through friendship A vision is now our collective reality. Jason J. Price, NXTHVN Founder and Chairman of the Board
A NOTE FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
or to stand up, as the eight artists in this exhibition have stood up, and participate in authoring a more complex and inclusive narrative. Moreover, it asks us to relinquish outdated notions of belonging and cultural propriety, and instead embrace change as a chronology that is cyclical, vast, and enduring. In Dixwell and neighborhoods like ours— where said change is an inescapable reality experienced daily in the form of gentrification and its attendant mechanisms—Counter mythologies is far more than a seasonal art exhibition. Here, it is a call to action. A point of entry into a conversation with someone new, spawned by a work of art that is perhaps familiar and unfamiliar all at once. A reminder to remember those from whom we’ve inherited our stories, our land, our cultural wealth, and our undeniable excellence. A mirror in which to see ourselves reflected as essential stakeholders and collaborators in all that will be created, and find a permanent home, here at NXTHVN. As we near the end of construction on our facility and the launch of our full program later this year, Countermythologies is also an essential punctuation mark in the origin story of this evolving institution—an ellipsis bridging our own past and future, as we strive towards becoming a responsive neighbor and cultural anchor here in Dixwell. NXTHVN always imagined the Gallery to be the primary site where artists, curators, young people, and the local community would come together to discuss the complex intersections of art and our everyday lives. I’m eternally grateful to Zalika, Riham, and Ana for gifting us such a thoughtful and dynamic platform through which to convene, converse, and discover more about ourselves, each other, and this reality that we share.
We are honored to inaugurate the newly constructed NXTVHN gallery with Counter mythologies, an intimate yet far-reaching exhibition curated by 2019 Curatorial Fellows Zalika Azim, Riham Majeed, and Ana Tuazon. With the support of their Curatorial Advisors, Kalia Brooks Nelson and Keely Orgeman, the Fellows built a conceptual framework that is deeply relevant to our community of Dixwell where these works will find a home through the spring of this year. In their first major exhibition as emerging curators, Zalika, Ana, and Riham were fearless as they performed the subversive work of mining historical archives to theorize a more radical future, one where we hold less dear to the fictions that divide rather than unite us. Theirs was a boldly precarious position—looking back to look forward—which embodies the very spirit of mentorship and intergenerational collaboration upon which NXTHVN is built. I’m proud to steward an organization where our future leaders of tomorrow demonstrate such tangible reverence for history and its contemporary legacies, in both their theoretical approach and their professional practice. The exhibition’s focus on archival memory, oral history, and ancestral inheritances as tools of power and spiritual transcendence for communities of color is particularly urgent during this precarious moment of heightened cultural erasure. (One needn’t look too far for evidence that our social institutions—like the Monterey jazz club and the Q House community center to name a few—are at risk of being forever unmoored from the landscapes of both our built environment and collective imagination.) Countermythologies—a moral compass and spiritual anchor in uncertain times such as ours—confronts us with a choice: to stand by idly as others write our story into history,
Nico Wheadon Executive Director, NXTHVN
artwork. The show includes painting, video, installation, photography, neon, and mixed media—each material having its own language within the lexicon of art history and popular culture. In this way, the exhibition is also a site for critical inquiry with the materials of artmaking, where the deformation, compositing, slicing, and provocation of substances is also a metaphor for the subversion of preexisting historical narratives. In each of the curatorial essays that follow, the curator focuses on a specific set of artists and interprets their work in relation to the premise of the exhibition. Zalika Azim’s contribution discusses reinterpretations of history through disparate sources, some belonging to archives and others to memory. Azim first addresses the conceptually interconnected photograph and sculptures of Edgar Arceneaux, which call attention to an incident of censorship against a Black performer that occurred almost forty years ago. Rather than showing footage from the event, Arceneaux speaks to the distortion of this particular story through the symbolism of his black-and-white image and cast-off objects. Azim then turns to the archival eclecticism made manifest in Xaviera Simmons’s visually layered photographs and textual paintings. Although Simmons tends not to reveal her archival sources in any obvious way, each of her works explicitly references a historical image or text connected to the lives and tribulations of Black people. Lastly, Azim’s analysis shifts to the “hair-painting” of Jarrett Key and the related video that documents the embodied creation of such work. Key’s process is grounded in metaphor: the hair on their head serves as the painter’s brush, the paint as narrative material, the canvas as spiritual document, and the gestural action as speech expressed on behalf of their ancestors.
Myth is a type of speech. . . . Myth is a system of communication. . . . It is a message. This allows one to perceive that myth cannot possibly be an object, a concept, or an idea; it is a mode of signification, a form. — Roland Barthes, Mythologies
Countermythologies is the inaugural exhibition curated by NXTHVN’s Curatorial Fellows Zalika Azim, Riham Majeed, and Ana Tuazon. Over the course of one year, the three have worked together to produce a curatorial project that reflects their combined interests. By researching various artists’ work, they extrapolated topics related to colonialism and national identity; language and assimilation; race and popular culture—as well as memory and storytelling. They have constructed a framework that focuses on how meaning is derived from each of these themes, and how art as a form of representation can be a site for critical engagement with social reality. The title, Countermythologies, takes a subversive position. It marks a radical intervention with the modes of signification that reinstate inequitable power relationships within society. The curators enter into the discourse already taking for granted the impact of messages, both visual and verbal, which are used to create impassable boundaries between individuals, communities, nations, and generations. To this end, they have included artwork that encourages alternative methods of communication as a means of liberating the overlooked, displaced, and marginalized from the conventional distortions of mythical speech. The curators have included a range of material in the exhibition in order to support the experience of multivocality they seek in the
Riham Majeed offers a perspective on language as an arbiter of inclusion and exclusion. As Majeed argues, one’s sense of belonging is conventionally determined by the social interactions and communications that an individual experiences within a large group, whether a local community or an entire nation. Questioning this socializing pressure enforced upon non-native speakers in predominantly English-speaking cultures, Majeed begins with a discussion about the sound sculptures of Jesse Chun. The subject of Chun’s critique is the English language, particularly its insidious use as a tool of assimilation. Conversely, Majeed considers the affirming power of language in Tavares Strachan’s neon sign, comprised simply of words that read as a declaration of communal affinity. Ana Tuazon explores the shifting perceptions of imperialism and national identity, both notions that have been upheld in American culture. In Tuazon’s essay, Bethany Collins represents one of the artists who has challenged the ideology of cultural unity. Collins’s works on paper serially reproduce variations on types of popular texts—song lyrics and classified ads—showing specific instances in which American history has repeated itself in written form. Tuazon links this examination of traditions that have been broadly reinforced to Sky Hopinka’s interpretation of ways of living among certain Indigenous communities that outside forces have violently altered. Hopinka makes short films in which all things appear unstable, with the significant exception of native languages, which are spoken by elders even throughout the most chaotic sequences. Lastly, elucidating another artistic strategy of layering narratives, Tuazon explains Firelei Báez’s contemporary interventions into colonial systems of mapping. In an especially potent example,
Báez superimposes an Afrofuturist figure over a historical map of the colonized Caribbean islands, suggesting a stance of opposition and a reconfiguration of power. As advisors to the three curators, we recognize the accomplishment of their efforts to come to a shared understanding about the connectivity between these eight artists: Edgar Arceneaux, Firelei Báez, Jesse Chun, Bethany Collins, Sky Hopinka, Jarrett Key, Tavares Strachan, and Xaviera Simmons. Following the lead of the artists—whose work was viewed, studied, discussed, and debated throughout the development of the exhibition concept—the curators have refined their own personal and collective awareness of the myths that continue to underpin societies built on colonization, genocide, and slavery. They have found through the artists, with whom they stand in solidarity, that narratives of the past have depended on language to manipulate the truth. In the works presented in the exhibition, language—implied or actual— is centered, its malleability employed to full advantage in the making of alternative stories, which provoke a new understanding of what it means to belong inside ourselves and to our family, our community, and our country. Kalia Brooks Nelson Keely Orgeman
UNSETTLING THE ARCHIVE AND THE FULLNESS THEREOF Zalika Azim
ZALIKA AZIM On January 19, 1981, just hours before president-elect Ronald Reagan gave his inaugural speech as the fortieth President of the United States, the television network ABC presented a program called the AllStar Inaugural Gala. Nationally televised from the Capital Centre in Washington, D.C., the gala attracted nearly 41.8 million American viewers and featured Hollywood celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Ethel Merman, and Bob Hope. Also among the group was Ben Vereen, a thirty-six-year-old performer who had already cemented his legacy through appearances in the Broadway musical Pippin (1972) and the television miniseries Roots (1977), for which he was awarded Tony and Emmy awards. Introduced by comedian Johnny Carson, Vereen’s performance at the gala paid homage to the legendary Black vaudevillian performer Bert Williams. Highlighting the demeaning conditions of minstrels—a category Figure 1 of American performance in which Williams was included—Carson’s introduction acknowledged the history of segregation in American theater. When Vereen took the stage following these remarks, he might have rightly assumed that the gala would have provided him with a public platform to exercise his constitutional right to the freedom of speech and expression, and further to work through the historical traumas inflicted on Black performers. Dressed in a top hat, a coat with tails, and blackface—as Williams would have been required to wear during the early twentieth century—Vereen’s two-part act began with a fictional scenario in which he is denied the right to buy President Reagan and his guests celebratory drinks. Concluding the performance with Williams’s doleful song Nobody,1 Vereen proceeded to remove his blackface makeup before the live audience, thereby defying the historical myth, as discussed by journalist Carolina Miranda, that excellence. By conjoining historical narratives like those of the Ethiopian Empire (exonym Abyssinia, 1270–1974) with stereotypes entrenched in American theater, the show was one of the first Broadway acts strategically organized to educate and desegregate and theatergoers. “Bert Williams, 1874–1922,” The Library of Congress, accessed January 6, 2020, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200038860/.
1 Written by Bert Williams in 1905, the half-spoken, half-sung piece Nobody gained popularity for its discerning analysis and countering of stereotypes, propagated by racism in America. Originally performed in 1906 as part of Williams’s co-authored Broadway production Abyssinia, the song, like the production, worked to bring awareness to Black hardships and
UNSETTLING THE ARCHIVE AND THE FULLNESS THEREOF “a black man’s blackness is accepted only when it is masked by exaggeration on stage.”2 Tragically, the audience who tuned into the gala on TV were unable to see Vereen’s performance in its entirety. What should have been an emotionally critical break from the nation’s longstanding history of prejudice against Black Americans instead resulted in an unsubtle and extremely unsettling perpetuation of violence. Against the agreement extended to Vereen, the television broadcasters chose to omit the last five minutes of his act, inevitably distorting the political statement that the actor had intended to make: the elimination of minstrelsy through the removal of his makeup. Without having witnessed this part of the performance, viewers at home only encountered Vereen enacting blackface in front of an applauding, Figure 2 predominantly white audience. And perhaps most enraged was the Black community, who in their confusion over the performer’s intentions proceeded to ostracize him, thus causing his career to plummet.3 While Vereen’s individual experience is unique in itself, the circumstances of his excommunication due to hierarchical censorship and dissonance is not. In refusing to comply with the portrayals that dictate our internalized understandings of race within American society, Vereen proposed a countermyth to the narratives reinforced by popular culture. Similar to Vereen’s attempt, Edgar Arceneaux, Jarrett Key, and Xaviera Simmons utilize their practices to unsettle historically accepted narratives. By re/turning to archival resources, they do so not with intentions of perpetuating these chronicles but, instead, with resolutions of exhausting former cycles of oppression that do not feed collective societal progress. Through his 2 Carolina A. Miranda, “Column: Art, Reagan and blackface: Edgar Arceneaux examines controversial performance by Ben Vereen,” Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2017, accessed January 6, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/ entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et-cam-edgar-arceneauxben-vereen-blackface-20151028-column.html.
3 In response to Vereen’s performance, the political activist and entertainer Ruby Dee commented, “Poor Bert is turning over in his grave.” Robert E. Johnson, “Ben Vereen Still under Fire for Blackface Act at Gala,” Jet Magazine, February 12, 1981, 14–18.
ZALIKA AZIM sculptures and photographic portraits, Arceneaux unveils censored materials in order to complicate the definitions that depend on colonial othering and the categorizing of racialized bodies. Simmons’s photographs and text-based paintings mine historic archives, utilizing such visual and textual documents to consider unspoken narratives in critical terms. Key’s hair-paintings and documentation of their performances employ improvisational movement, markmaking, and ancestral memory as a series of proposals towards navigating the intangible nature of oral histories. Together, these artists ascribe and reinforce new personal and collective revelations, allowing themselves the freedom to explore, find, and redefine longstanding conventions. Through performative gestures and other radical forms of creation, Arceneaux, Simmons, and Key implicate the audience; they force us to consider the politics of placemaking, while acknowledging our role as active agents, rather than mere spectators. In the artists’ propositions, we are enticed to examine not only the elements of human experience that historic narratives and archival practices generally displace, but also the possibilities (and perhaps the limitations) of employing alternative methods to rewrite cultural narratives. Edgar Arceneaux’s photograph First Dress: Frank Lawson as Ben Vereen as Bert Williams (2017), references Vereen’s 1981 performance and portrays the actor Frank Lawson in the foreground of an ambiguous location.4 With his somber face covered in an inky substance, Lawson peers outward, past the edge of the frame, and appears to be in a state of contemplation that contends with the cyclical and complex legacies of history, memory, authorship, and trauma. As abstractions of President Reagan’s inaugural celebration, Arceneaux’s sculptures Red Ronnie, Blue Bert, and Green Vereen explore the segment of Vereen’s performance that was never aired. Drawing the viewers’ attention to the ambiguous qualities of the assemblages, Arceneaux’s sculptures mimic, reenact, and assume the gestures of the performers both in their making and naming. While Arceneaux’s exploration of this historical event focuses on the personal experience of a single individual, the works might also be understood as grappling with the truth of broader historical narratives. By various methods 4 In Edgar Arceneaux’s 2015 live work Until, Until, Until… actor Frank Lawson reenacts Ben Vereen’s full 1981 performance and homage to Bert Williams during
Reagan’s inaugural gala. “Edgar Arceneaux: Until, Until, Until…,” Performa 2015, accessed January 6, 2020, http://15.performa-arts.org/events/until-until-until.
UNSETTLING THE ARCHIVE AND THE FULLNESS THEREOF of re/interpretation, Arceneaux encourages an analysis of history that not only acknowledges the influence of collective understanding and cultural memory but one that also allows for constant revision. Critically considering the flattening of marginal narratives, Xaviera Simmons uses her multidisciplinary practice to explore the legacies and systemic injustices that American history has rendered invisible. Proposing that we as a nation make “foundational shifts towards a new type of Democracy,” she pursues her work through research, primarily of historic documents, photographs, and audio recordings.5 Totemically juxtaposing her own photographs with sourced images, in such works as Sundown (Number Five) (2018) and Sundown (Number Fifteen) (2018), the past and present intermingle as the artist positions herself, alone, in a landscape to serve as a witness and character. These works at once rupture time and foster the coexistence of disparate experiences, connected by the reverberation of racial prejudice in the United States. In this, the myth-making that Simmons herself performs could be seen as both timed and timeless in its relation to the archive and the present moment. In her large-scale paintings, Simmons employs texts to produce poetic visual gestures that expose historical conflicts. These paintings, like her photographs, incorporate archival materials but extract from them words, rather than images. The texts that Simmons uses often relate to Figure 3 hegemonic narratives and are drawn from materials as diverse as Christopher Columbus’s diary to Michigan Representative John Conyers’s political speech regarding the anti-racism bill H.R. 40.6 Treating her text-paintings as rhythmic vibrations of history Simmons overcomes one of the traditional barriers, as Evan Moffitt has observed, that 5 Xaviera Simmons, “A Day: June 1, 2019,” MoMA, August 16, 2019, accessed January 6, 2020, https://www.moma.org/magazine/articles/136. 6 Written by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), H.R. 40 was presented to Congress in 1989. The bill established slavery and racism in the United states as an inhumane structure impacting African Americans from 1619 to
the present. The bill further proposes the establishment of a commission with which reparations and other collective remedies would be allotted. For the full bill: United States Congressional Senate Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act of 2019. 116th Cong., 1st sess. HR 40. Washington: GPO, 2019. Print.
ZALIKA AZIM marginalized groups typically “comb [through] the archive of U.S. history in search of something they can recognize, only to realize that history was written to exclude them.”7 Simmons addresses this problem head-on by actively rewriting accounts that exclude the disenfranchised groups and by reconfiguring old systems of language, thereby fostering a platform for more comprehensive accounts to exist. Drawing inspiration from the traditions of jazz composition, Simmons uses improvisation in her process.8 Constructed through a series of breaks, repetition, and sequencing, the text takes on a rhythmic quality that becomes integral to the re/telling of the selected narrative. The poet and scholar Fred Moten has raised the related question of what to make of text that disrupts its own reading, proposing that the breaks between the poem and its aesthetic impact can provide a generative base. These textual gaps provide, in Moten’s words, “a space of emotional resonance that conventional language struggles to articulate.”9 In relation to Simmons’s paintings, this idea suggests that her abstracted language (and the act of writing) serves as a poetic device whose function extends beyond mere communication into the realm of human emotion. As poetic devices, these transcriptions of, and alterations to historical texts in her paintings perform and work towards freedom; by creating a space in which sociopolitical narratives that have previously excluded the voices of the masses can be reimagined.10 Simmons’s abstracted language creates a series of dynamics that allows for the authoring of new narratives. Offering a way through her work, she articulates the impact of oppression without reproducing it, ensuring that patriarchy’s role in written history is not absolved. Jarrett Key uses their own hair as a paintbrush to pull paint across the surface of unstretched canvases, trusting their queer, Black body to act as a tool for mark-making. Key often documents this process so that their paintings 7 Evan Moffitt, “What Can’t Be Read,” Frieze, December 18, 2017, accessed January 6, 2020, https://frieze.com/article/what-cant-be-read. 8 Pérez Art Museum, “Watch Xaviera Simmons discuss her works in “Poetics of Relation.” YouTube video, uploaded May 29, 2015, accessed January 6, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIUs7kYC9Lc 9 Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003). 10 Understanding jazz as an act of freedom, Patricia
Williams offers the idea that “jazz [functions] as a metaphor for inventive engagements with the law.” Thus, in its ability to pull from a long lineage of traditions, jazz becomes representative of various kinds of life scripts. While Williams’s interpretation of jazz aligns its making to a practice discharged by the structural order of American history, she also echoes its founding principles as being of its culture. Peter Margulies, Doubting Doubleness, and All That Jazz: Establishment Critiques of Outsider Innovations in Music and Legal Thought (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 2007).
UNSETTLING THE ARCHIVE AND THE FULLNESS THEREOF become an extension of their performative acts. These acts take on the role of records that at once celebrate, examine, extend, and are shaped by personal and ancestral histories. By invoking the legacy of their grandmother, who often cited biblical tales such as Samson and Delilah, Key recalls the impact of oral Figure 4 storytelling and its importance to the dissemination of narratives that could not be written by their elders.11–12 This notion takes precedence in the creation of their work. Expounding from several loosely choreographed moves, Key utilizes the canvas as a container to ground the elusive nature of oral narratives. Taking on language through bodily movements that respond rhythmically to songs, spiritual hymns, and family conversations, their saturated marks build gradually like words in a sentence. In relinquishing concrete physical prompts, Key’s body is transformed into a listening device capable of interpreting and extending beyond the corporeal, to a level of somatic improvisation that highlights alternative ways of knowing. Danielle Goldman claims these authentic movements are grounded by reflection and a system of spontaneity pertinent to understanding the body and its senses. She proposes that the “vital technology of the self [is] an ongoing, critical, physical, and anticipatory readiness that, while grounded in the individual, is necessary for a vibrant sociality and civil society.”13 Key’s upbringing in the church provides further groundings for considering not only the importance of communal congregations on a multigenerational spectrum, but also the historic role of convening in order to maintain connections to marginalized narratives primarily kept by way of movement and oral traditions. Movement-based artist mayfield brooks, in her dance project entitled Improvising While Black (IWB), suggests that using the voice and body to navigate societal and architectural structures, grants the space to rupture and “provide a series of gestures to engage, surprise, risk, and tell11 New International Bible, Judges 16:16–20. 12 Danielle Goldman argues that, in the history of oral storytelling, dance and other improvisatory acts are deeply rooted in non-Western traditions. It is due to “this history [that] makes it hard to ignore the racism
embedded in the claim that [oral history] lacks rigor.” See Danielle Goldman, I Want To Be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010), 16. 13 Ibid., 1–27.
ZALIKA AZIM truth.” Through extracting from such spaces, she continues, “we are able to pinpoint a standard of existing in blackness that is not concrete, but instead raises the stakes of our vulnerability to each other.”14 Echoing the constructs of daily life that require the negotiation of space and society, Key’s unfiltered movements are both complicated, and rendered vulnerable to the dynamics of consumption by their contact with the canvas. In this physical exchange and association, the canvas as a signifier meets Key’s movements both with resistance as well as a malleability that influences the structure of the paint. In contemplating the gestures inscribed in Key’s hair-paintings, we are led to ask: what does it mean to “dance” history, and what are the potentials and constraints of this form of communication? In Key’s use of the canvas as a record, the viewer is lead to an awareness of the relationships existing between bodily mark-making, transcription, and translation. Exploring how the body might emit and sound information, Key’s work as a practice of intuition lends itself as an example of how we might further contribute to history and place-making in ways that reflect our nations’ narratives in all their totality. Reflecting on Edgar Arceneaux’s project Until, Until, Until… (2015), writer Sharon Mizota observes that the power and beauty of art lies in its “ability not only to excavate the traumas and travesties of [history], but to locate them in the fears and desires of the audience, us.”15 This thought is echoed throughout the works in this exhibition. The artists reimagine and reject history as a stagnant player fixed by time, through actively utilizing their practices to reinterpret and unsettle problematic historical narratives. They engage in real-time history-making that acknowledges colonization and the narratives that have been ushered to the margins at its hand. This further calls attention to the problematic hierarchies instilled in history-making as we know it through various methods of revitalized transcription and assemblage. In this naming (or perhaps renaming), the exhibited works challenge the long trajectory of authorship, omission, and history as fact disjointed from fiction. These counter-myths oppose dominant historical narratives, presenting a multiplicity of accounts that decouple the single-tracked nature of hierarchy in order to advance society as inclusive and multifaceted. 14 mayfield brooks, “IWB = IMPROVISING WHILE BLACK: writings, INterventions, interruptions, questions,” Contact Quarterly Journal, (Winter/Spring 2016): 33–39.
15 Sharon Mizota, “Ben Vereen, Ronald Reagan and the travesty of blackface, potently remembered,” Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2017.
Edgar Arceneaux, First Dress: Frank Lawson as Ben Vereen as Bert Williams, 2017 (installation view). Black and white photograph, 21 Ă— 17.25 Ă— 1.5 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.
Edgar Arceneaux, Blue Bert, 2017. Cast aluminum, enamel, hat, pedestal, 51.5 Ă— 12.75 Ă— 12.5 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles. Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody. Photo by Jeff McLane.
Edgar Arceneaux, Red Ronnie, 2017. Cast aluminum, enamel, hat, pedestal, 48.75 Ă— 12.5 Ă— 12.75 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.
Jarrett Key, Hair Painting #14, 2019 (video stills). Video, 10 mins., 2 secs. Courtesy of the artist. Video by Wael Morcos and Jon Key.
Jarrett Key, Hair Painting #15, 2017 (installation view). Tempera on canvas, 106 Ă— 64 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Jon Key.
Xaviera Simmons, Sundown (Number Five), 2018. Chromogenic color print, 60 Ă— 45 inches. Courtesy of the artist and David Castillo Gallery.
Xaviera Simmons, Sundown (Number Fifteen), 2018. Chromogenic color print, 60 Ă— 45 inches. Courtesy of the artist and David Castillo Gallery.
THE MYTH OF THE FOREIGNER Riham Majeed
RIHAM MAJEED There are only versions of ourselves, many of which we have not embraced, most of which we wish to protect ourselves from. For the stranger is not foreign, she is random; not alien but remembered; and it is the randomness of the encounter with our already known— although unacknowledged—selves that summons a ripple of alarm.1 —Toni Morrison, Being or Becoming the Stranger
What does it look like to belong? In her essay “Home,” Toni Morrison ponders the notion of the foreigner and the ways in which foreignness is maintained. Morrison, one of the most significant writers and thinkers on Black American identity of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, asks, “How do individuals resist or become complicit in the process of alienizing others’ demonization— a process that can infect the foreigner’s geographical sanctuary with the country’s xenophobia?”2 According to Morrison, the historical and present trauma of colonialism constructs foreigners, those who don’t belong. After harsh methods of expulsion—either by displacement or murder—of Indigenous communities has occurred in colonized land, Morrison writes, “Foreigners were constructed as the sum total of the putative nation’s ills.”3 How, then, are the parameters of the foreigner formed in a colonial society, and how does the individual or group of people rebut a colonial narrative that has informed them of their otherness? The artists in this exhibition offer countermythologies to the long-held narrative of being foreign, or other. In this essay, the term countermythology refers to the production of alternative historical and contemporary narratives that affirm a sense of belonging. Artists Tavares Strachan and Jesse Chun help us explore the idea of belonging through the use of language, specifically the acquisition, interpretation, and reception of language from the perspective of the other. This vantage point displaces the conventional power relations between groups, nationalities, and communities, opening up the possibility for new social connections among individuals to be formed that subvert racist and xenophobic colonial narratives. Jesse Chun critiques the othering process, focusing on the ways in which the English language is taught to non-native speakers and assimilation is enforced upon them. Specifically, Chun’s practice decenters English, a language that has historically controlled and presently dictates cultural narratives worldwide. 1 Toni Morrison, The Origin of Others (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 38, e-book. 2 Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard: Selected
Essays, Speeches, and Meditation (New York: Knopf, 2019), 18. 3 Ibid., 20.
THE MYTH OF THE FOREIGNER She employs immaterial and material means, such as audio recordings and Roman alphabetic forms shaped from silicone, to deconstruct and fragment the English language until it is void of literary meaning but retains the aesthetic value of inflection and pronunciation. In Sound Natural (2018), an airport speaker projects the audio component of a YouTube tutorial video, in which non-native speakers respond to the tutorial’s demonstrations of the “proper” pronunciation of vowels in English. A black circular orb, the speaker is made for the massively tall ceilings of airports and meant to be out of view but, in Chun’s work, instead confronts the viewer at eye level. The voices that emanate from this object overlap in intervals, creating a rhythmic tension of enunciated vowels. Using the title as a reference point, the artist questions the notion of “sounding natural” and the cultural pressure of assimilation through means of a “proper” pronunciation of the English language. Critical theorist Homi K. Bhabha observes how a multilingual learner’s quest to learn the English language within the English-speaking Western world is a process of identification. The fact of existing in a new culture, as Bhabha describes it, “is to be called into being in relation to an otherness, its look or locus.”4 In a newly immigrated person’s perception of America, for example, the dominance of a native English speaker relies on the foreignness of the nonnative speaker. For a foreigner who newly exists within the Western hegemony, Bhabha deduces, “The question of identification is never the affirmation of a pre-given identity, never a self-fulfilling prophecy—it is always the production of an image of identity and the transformation of the subject in assuming that image.”5 Relatedly, Jesse Chun’s work questions why the non-native English speaker is so othered through the process of manipulating their natural English speaking voice into one that is deemed sufficient by native English speakers. In Morrison’s writings on the foreigner, she makes the claim that sovereignties rise to power by invalidating the other: “Nation-states, governments seeking legitimacy and identity, seem able and determined to shape themselves by the destruction of a collective ‘other’.”6 Chun conversely validates the other, therefore providing a mode by which to consider the illegitmacy of 4 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994), 63, e-book.
5 Ibid., 64. 6 Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard, 20.
RIHAM MAJEED conventional power structures as well as the instability of identity positions within the nationalistic framework. But how is the foreigner formed in the first place? Contemporary scholar of social and political philosophy Charles W. Mills proposes that the creation of the foreigner is based on “The Racial Contract,”7 an implicit agreement among white Europeans that maintains notions of white supremacy. Mills argues that it is the separation of people into dichotomous groups, in which “humanoids” are distinguished from “barbarians” or “savages.”8 Any refusal to adhere to the American standard of the English language leads one to be considered a foreigner, according to the logic of the imagined racial contract. In Chun’s soundscape Voiceless Consonants (2019), another audio work made from pronunciation tutorials of the English language, the recording starts in the hushed voices of single speakers. As the work progresses, the voices gradually increase in volume and layer over each other, generating a cacophonous symphony of speakers practicing the pronunciation of consonants. In deconstructing these tutorials, Chun addresses the absurdity of the idea that non-native speakers need to fit a national standard of English. For Chun, assimilation through language is not only a dangerous myth, but also a roadblock to the foreigner’s feeling as though he or she belongs. Tavares Strachan works to reclaim a sense of belonging that has been stolen by hegemonic notions of foreignness. In You Belong Here, Strachan rejects authoritarian designations of belonging and instead presents an autonomous alternative. Morrison describes the ways in which those in positions of power blur the parameters of what it means to belong, so as to maintain the foreigner’s state of being foreign. These blockades to belonging, she writes, are “the inside/outside blur that can enshrine frontiers and borders—real, metaphorical, and psychological—as we wrestle with definitions of nation, state, and citizenship as well as the ongoing problems of racism and race relations, and the so-called clash of cultures.”9 In Strachan’s yellow neon sign You Belong Here (2013), which has been produced in different colorways in other variations of the work, the artist has presented a momentary answer to the question of who belongs and how this belonging is determined. The sign reads, “You Belong Here,” directly addressing the viewer in a declarative statement. Once installed on a 140-foot barge on the Mississippi River, facing 7 Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998), Kindle e-book.
8 Ibid., location 255. 9 Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard, 8.
THE MYTH OF THE FOREIGNER the city of New Orleans, “here” refers to the place the work is installed, a parameter easily mutable by its setting, presenting a new context in each geographical location. By creating a transient work that applies to any setting, Strachan makes the claim that, though places Figure 1 will remain in flux, belonging can be claimed wherever the work may be, undermining normative assertions of a fixed identity. Strachan’s approach calls to mind the British philosopher J. L. Austin’s notion “performative utterances,” whereby a statement is not just a verbal or written record but an act of performance. Austin observes, “If a person makes an utterance … we should say that he is doing something rather than merely saying something.”10 He notes that performative utterances are not necessarily true or false but, in the proper conditions, hold truth. In envisioning belonging as an action rather than a verbal or written phrase, one can claim belonging as a counter-action to being othered. When approaching You Belong Here, the viewer has the option to consider the veracity of the statement and, by doing so, is performing an act of agency in determining his or her own belonging in the space where the work is perceived. In this three-word utterance, Tavares Strachan provides the kind of solace for which the speaking subjects in Jesse Chun’s work appear to be longing in their desire to belong. He acknowledges the mythical narrative of not belonging and offers an alternative. You do belong. What does belonging look like? What if we “re-imagine how we define place,” as Strachan states in reference to You Belong Here?11 In any given place, the statement of this work presents a dialogue with the community. When presented at NXTHVN, in the Dixwell neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut, residents are given the autonomy to determine their belonging and assess the impact of it as they continue to grow and change the neighborhood. You Belong Here stands as a transcendent counter-narrative to the myth of foreignness that has been reinforced by the imagined otherness of the Dixwell neighborhood in relation to Yale University’s main campus in downtown New Haven. 10 J. L. Austin, “Performative Utterances”, Philosophical Paper, ed. J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 235.
11 Tavares Strachan, Artist statement for You Belong Here, 2013, September 2019.
RIHAM MAJEED Rather than upending a myth with a statement, as Tavares Strachan’s work does, Jesse Chun’s sound sculptures engage with the common myth that Western colonial histories have maintained—that is, the foreigner’s origin is invalid and must be assimilated into the new culture through the absurd practices of altering one’s natural cultural practices. Through Chun’s critique of Western pedagogies for teaching English to non-native speakers, she demonstrates that such common historical narratives will never hold any promise of belonging. Strachan offers to negate these notions of foreignness by refusing to acknowledge that the foreigner exists at all. Strachan’s You Belong Here asks to dispel the alienation of perceived foreigners, and instead embrace a collective sense of belonging. In dialogue with one another, the two works challenge the dominant cultural and historical barriers to one’s feeling of being present in and part of any given place and they counter these obstacles with alternative speculations and claims.
Jesse Chun, voiceless consonants, 2019 (installation view). Audio (2 mins.), airport speaker, wire, amp, steel bracket, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by YH Cho.
Tavares Strachan, You Belong Here, 2013 (installation view). Yellow neon, two transformers, 22.5 Ă— 10 Ă— 57 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Bill Orcutt.
UNITY AS MYTH Ana Tuazon
ANA TUAZON Why do national anthems exist? They exist because music not only brings people together, but also makes them feel together. For a song like “The StarSpangled Banner” to fulfill its purpose in the United States, the anthem must be experienced in a group that performs a patriotic display of unity; this is also a performance of love, as one might define patriotism as devotion to one’s homeland. To refuse to participate would be to display the absence of love. This interpretation of unpatriotic behavior has been made most publicly visible in the arena of sports spectatorship—in recent years, by the American football player Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest against racism and police brutality. Before Kaepernick, over fifty years ago, an even more provocative protest of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was the Black Power salute performed by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic Figure 1 Games in Mexico City, where the two American runners raised black-gloved fists as the anthem played. Smith and Carlos also wore other symbolic accessories, such as black socks without shoes to represent poverty in Black communities in the U.S., as well as strings of beads that Carlos said “were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed that no one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the Middle Passage.”1 Feminist scholar Sara Ahmed, writing about the uptick in U.S. citizens’ display of the American flag after 9/11, describes the stakes for those who opt out of the trend: “To paraphrase George W. Bush, if you do not show you are ‘with us,’ you would be seen as ‘against us.’”2 The same analysis can be applied to the protests of the anthem; all three athletes received intense backlash for their demonstrations of dissent and were labeled unpatriotic— un-American. Feelings of “withness,” Ahmed says, “[are] premised on signs of ‘likeness’ and whereby likeness becomes an imperative or a condition of survival.”3 As the U.S. struggles to address its origins in upholding white prosperity at the expense of oppressed groups—and subsequently its invention of the country as a white space—how do Americans challenge a 1 Dave Zirin, What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), 87.
2 Sara Ahmed, “Affective Economies,” Social Text 79 no. 22 (2004), 130. 3 Ibid., 130.
UNITY AS MYTH hegemonic notion of unity that seeks to obscure as-yet unhealed colonial traumas of the past? For the three artists whose work is addressed in this essay—Bethany Collins, Sky Hopinka, and Firelei Báez—that challenge is made via the deconstruction of historical myths. What is offered in replacement isn’t so much a factual correction as a collection of stories that begin to form their own countermythologies, refusing assumed feelings of “withness” to instead center difference and oppositionality as essential conditions for survival, community-building, and healing. Before the 1931 adoption of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the United States’ official anthem, a number of de facto anthems were used instead. One of them was “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” (also known as “America”) using the melody of Britain’s national anthem “God Save the Queen,” which several other countries also adopted for their anthems. Seeking to explore how the song’s emotional power was harnessed for divergent ideological purposes, Bethany Collins created the artist book America: A Hymnal (2017), for which she compiled one hundred different versions of “My Country ’Tis of Thee” that were written between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. The lyrics, which change from version to version, are legible; the sheet music, which remains constant throughout all the versions, has been removed—not erased but lasered out, leaving behind a charred, empty shadow on each page. According to Collins, the lyrics of “My Country ’Tis of Thee” were rewritten at least one hundred times “in support of a passionately held cause—from temperance and suffrage to abolition and even the Confederacy,” reflecting a diverse, shifting collection of American ideals.4 But the tune itself, now burnt away in America: A Hymnal, serves as the true template for an emotional expression of belonging—a sense of collective identity and purpose accessed through the nation. Some versions of the song are subversive in offering new meanings; for example, W. E. B. Du Bois presented an alternative rendition for those who, upon being called to recite the anthem, felt conflicted over what it represented. Originally written as a poem, it can be thought of as a corollary to James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as “the Black National Anthem.”5 In re-writing the song, Du Bois 4 Bethany Collins, “America: A Hymnal,” accessed December 20, 2019, https://bethanyjoycollins.com/ artwork/4271823_America_A_Hymnal.html. 5 “What shall you do?” Du Bois asked rhetorically, concluding, “Noblesse oblige; you cannot be boorish, or ungracious; and too, after all it is your country and you
do love its ideals if not all of its realities.” Instead of “thy woods and templed hills,” Du Bois sings of “thy hate which chills” but follows this indictment with optimism: “My heart with purpose thrills / To rise above.” See W. E. B. Du Bois, “My Country ’Tis of Thee” from Creative Writings by W. E. B. Du Bois (White Plains, NY: KrausThomson Limited, 1985), 15.
ANA TUAZON offers an idea of citizenship as a commitment to a personal ethic, and suggests this outranks any allegiance to a national body, though allegiance must be performed. If, then, the song has historically served as a template for individuals to imprint their own ideas about what freedoms were worth fighting for (or singing about), what might it mean that Collins has turned the book’s musical notes into voids? Collins asks the viewer to consider what unity, if any, “My Country ’Tis of Thee” represents, or if the ideal of freedom is best captured by the traditions of protest and reappraisal that America: A Hymnal embodies. Collins’s work challenges the myth of progress towards “a more perfect union” in the U.S. through strategic erasures and interventions within textbased objects; critic Brian Leahy uses the term “textual counterpractices” to describe how Collins’s “understanding of language as a site of political and historical struggle” informs her practice.6 Her textual objects are brought out of the archive, and through the artist’s attentive gestures, illuminate the forgotten (or erased) experiences of those living life on the margins of a now-mythologized white American prosperity. In Collins’s Do You Know Them? (1897) (2018), classified ads that were originally published in an African American-run newspaper at the end of the nineteenth century become a lament for Figure 2 a kinship and togetherness that has been severed, perhaps irretrievably, due to slavery.7 The seven pieces of red newsprint that comprise the piece are each twice embossed with classified ads that ran in the Virginia newspaper The Richmond Planet in 1897. Each one begins with the sentence, “Do you know them?”, and the authors of the ads describe their hopes to “find the whereabouts of my people” or “learn of my kinsfolk.” These sentences could be difficult to comprehend if one does not know the context that informs their writing: how could someone be so removed from “their people,” the group that by definition defines them? Knowing the context, 6 Brian T. Leahy, “Review: Bethany Collins at Patron Gallery,” Artforum, December 2018, https://www.artforum. com/print/reviews/201810/bethany-collins-77821. 7 Collins has used the archive “Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery” for this and a number of other pieces that reference different newspapers and years but take the
same systematic form as Do You Know Them? (1897). The online resource compiles “thousands of ‘Information Wanted’ advertisements taken out by former slaves searching for long lost family members” in newspapers across the U.S. See https://informationwanted.org/.
UNITY AS MYTH one must ask, how many years—or generations—does it take to rebuild a community and to relocate a sense of “home”? Sky Hopinka’s work explores ideas of home, and their often-discordant relationship to the land itself, by destabilizing a viewer’s relationship to place. Hopinka constructs a sense of dislocation not just from images of a place but from the words used to describe it; in particular, his films draw attention to the endurance of Indigenous knowledge systems despite their absence from official records and transmission through languages that are now vulnerable to the risk of extinction. In Hopinka’s short film Visions of an Island (2016), viewers witness how an elder’s impressions of an island in the Bering Sea (near the very limits of the U.S. border) are shaped by the Unangam Tunuu language he speaks that is now being taught and revitalized. In Kunįkaga Remembers Red Banks, Kunįkaga Remembers the Welcome Song (2014), Hopinka’s grandmother’s recollection of the Hočąk village that existed in Red Banks, Wisconsin, prior to European contact contrasts with images of paintings that Hopinka encountered at a local museum depicting the French explorer Jean Nicolet landing in the area. Text begins to scroll across these painted images, and one can begin to read an account of Nicolet’s supposedly peaceful meeting with the native people of Red Banks. But as soon as one sentence is finished, another begins to scroll across the screen, and eventually these sentences overlap each other, disorienting the viewer. Hopinka says this decision was made to induce an “anxious mode of reading.”8 The instability of the text mirrors that of the historical narrative, demonstrating how creation myths are constructed from both native and settler perspectives. A similar experimentation with text and image can be found in Fainting Spells (2018), a film that presents a fictive myth of Xąwįska (also called the Indian Pipe Plant) which has traditionally been used by the Ho-Chunk Nation (to which Hopinka belongs) to revive people who have fainted. Fainting Spells addresses Xąwįska via handwritten text that moves across the screen, speaking to it as a personified entity who is also pictured as a cloaked figure. Again, multiple lines of text that scroll simultaneously make it impossible to fully grasp the story, though this is Hopinka’s intention. He uses myth here as a means of resisting dominant systems of knowledge production, instead offering a meandering, dreamlike journey through snapshots of places and 8 Sky Hopinka, conversation with author, September 9, 2019.
ANA TUAZON people that the viewer only glimpses momentarily; the shots themselves are often unstable, and shaky. At the beginning and end of Fainting Spells, a snippet of the folk song “Go My Son,” plays: “Go, my son, go and climb the ladder. Go, my son, go and earn your feather. Go, my son, make your people proud of you.”9 Hopinka’s reference to this song, and the ambiguous context from which it originates, emphasizes how volatile the boundary is between myth and truth in popular American representations of Indigenous life, paralleling Figure 3 his own act of myth-making in Fainting Spells. Hopinka’s films do not offer clear-cut judgments or an easy resolution. Instead, he describes them as an exercise in reconciliation, a coming to terms with “the sense of discord” that one experiences when relating to a place where the land is shared and shaped by multiple, and conflicting, narratives of home.10 Collins’s and Hopinka’s works demonstrate a commitment by contemporary artists to describe or engage with our present moment via interventions with objects, images, or texts from the past. Firelei Báez realizes an intervention like this, too, in ChronoDREAMer (2019), part of a body of work that explicitly counters colonial conceptions of personhood and value. For her primary material, Báez uses a map from Stark’s History and Guide to Barbados and the Caribbee Islands, published in the late nineteenth century for Western merchants and tourists looking to visit the islands’ English colonies. Stark’s guide, perhaps unsurprisingly, offers a vehemently racist description of Caribbean people of African and Indigenous descent, calling them “indolent, physically and mentally.”11 The borrowed map from this book serves as a backdrop for the painted outline of a woman’s figure, her body rendered with a bubbly watercolor effect, as if she has materialized from the sea itself. Though she has no visible face, her enormous, gleaming puffs of 9 “Go My Son” was inspired by the Navajo Chief Manuelito, who “urged his people to get an education to fight injustice,” but was written for and performed by an ensemble of Native American singers, the Lamanite Generation, affiliated with the Mormon Brigham Young University. Their message of uplift for native people, which was performed at reservations across the U.S., also disguised a mission to incorporate them into the Mormon Church, who believed the Lamanites to be ancient
ancestors to Indigenous people in the Americas. See Alysa Landry, “Assimilation Tool or a Blessing?,” Indian Country Today, January 7, 2016, https://newsmaven.io/ indiancountrytoday/archive/assimilation-tool-or-ablessing-tFtYj2_3L06RjdJ-UAVxCw. 10 Hopinka, conversation with author, September 9, 2019. 11 James H. Stark, Stark’s History and Guide to Barbados and the Caribbee Islands (Boston: J.H. Stark, 1903), 244.
UNITY AS MYTH hair become the focal point of the piece. For Báez, this is a powerful visual reclamation, resisting the violent assimilation represented by the Dominican blowouts that gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1980s, evidence of how Eurocentric beauty standards were furthered by colonizers and colonized alike. This liberated hair is like an armor, becoming its own, octopus-like entity. ChronoDREAMer was featured in Báez’s 2019 solo exhibition A Drexcyen Chronocommons (To win the war you fought it sideways), at James Cohan Gallery. The exhibition title refers to an Afrofuturist myth about an Atlantisesque city populated by the children of pregnant women who had been thrown overboard from slave ships during the Middle Passage. In referencing this speculative fiction, the title of the work ChronoDREAMer suggests that power can be found in imagining across the boundaries of the historic and futuristic and questioning the stability of these categories. Similarly presented as a challenge to the line between fiction and reality, Báez’s living monuments in historical chapters (2018) reproduces a large-scale plan of the American Sugar Refinery, overlaid with cloud-like distortions and sprinklings of white paint that resemble powdered sugar. The refinery seems to be drowning under these watery effects. The title of the piece alludes to the history of slave labor being used in Caribbean sugar plantations; “living monument” brings to mind a form of economic subjugation that persisted even as slavery’s legality did not. Though there is no identifiable human figure in the piece, the implied dissolution of the historic plan recalls the rendering of the mythical woman in ChronoDREAMer and suggests that the so-called monument, like Stark’s map, is overdue to be removed and replaced with something new. After Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested at the1968 Olympics, Smith countered arguments that their actions were un-American with a powerful statement: “If I win, I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad then they would say ‘a Negro.’ We are black and we are proud of being black.”12 Smith’s words, as well as the image of the two men’s upheld fists, clearly continued to resonate as years have passed; they still do today. The artists in Countermythologies form a dialogic relationship across time in their work, too, bringing attention to how seemingly minor acts of resistance and reclamation form new structures of belonging, like 12 “1968: Black athletes make silent protest,” BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/ october/17/newsid_3535000/3535348.stm.
ANA TUAZON W. E. B. Du Bois’s subtle criticism through song, or the Indigenous elders’ preservation of a language older than the United States. It may be too late to revise official records, but by making oppositional interventions into culture, artists participate in a process of dismantling the dominant narrative— a story that has become a myth by omission—and offer alternative ways of understanding nation, home, history.
Bethany Collins, America: A Hymnal, 2017 (installation view). Book with 100 laser cut leaves, 6 × 9 × 1 inches. Special Edition of 25. Courtesy of the artist and PATRON Gallery. Photo by Tim Johnson.
Bethany Collins, Do You Know Them? (1897), 2018. Twice embossed newsprint, 7 pieces at 11.75 × 9.5 inches. Overall: 11.75 × 63 × 1.5 inches. Right: Anne Johnson, 1897 (detail view). Courtesy of the Artist and PATRON Gallery. Collection of Helyn Goldenberg and Michael Alper, Chicago.
Sky Hopinka, Fainting Spells, 2018 (video still). HD Video, 10 mins., 25 secs. Courtesy of the artist.
Sky Hopinka, Kunįkága Remembers Red Banks, Kunįkága Remembers the Welcome Song, 2014 (video still). HD Video, 9 mins., 20 secs. Courtesy of the artist.
Sky Hopinka, Visions of an Island, 2016 (video still). HD Video, 15 mins., 3 secs. Courtesy of the artist.
Firelei Bรกez, living monuments in historical chapters, 2018. Acrylic and ink on canvas, 93.5 ร 121 inches. Right: detail view. Courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta Gallery.
Firelei Báez, Chrono-DREAMer, 2019. Acrylic and oil on archival printed canvas, 72 × 48 inches. Right: detail view. Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery. Collection of Nish de Gruiter. Photo by Phoebe d’Heurle.
WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION Edgar Arceneaux Blue Bert, 2017 Cast aluminum, enamel, hat, pedestal 51.5 × 12.75 × 12.5 inches Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody First Dress: Frank Lawson as Ben Vereen as Bert Williams, 2017 Black and white photograph 21 × 17.25 × 1.5 inches Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles Red Ronnie, 2017 Cast aluminum, enamel, hat, pedestal 48.75 × 12.5 × 12.75 inches Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles Firelei Báez ChronoDREAMer, 2019 Acrylic and oil on archival printed canvas 72 × 48 inches Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery Collection of Nish de Gruiter living monuments in historical chapters, 2018 Acrylic and ink on canvas 93.5 × 121 inches Courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta Gallery
Jesse Chun voiceless consonants, 2019 Audio (2 mins.), airport speaker, wire, amp, steel bracket Dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist Bethany Collins America: A Hymnal, 2017 Book with 100 laser cut leaves 6 × 9 × 1 inches Special Edition of 25 Courtesy of the artist and PATRON Gallery Do You Know Them? (1897), 2018 Twice embossed newsprint 7 pieces at 11.75 × 9.5 inches each Overall: 11.75 × 63 × 1.5 inches Courtesy of the artist and PATRON Gallery Collection of Helyn Goldenberg and Michael Alper Sky Hopinka Fainting Spells, 2018 HD Video, 10 mins., 25 secs. Courtesy of the artist Kunįkága Remembers Red Banks, Kunįkága Remembers the Welcome Song, 2014 HD Video, 9 mins., 20 secs. Courtesy of the artist Visions of an Island, 2016 HD Video, 15 mins., 3 secs. Courtesy of the artist
Jarrett Key Hair Painting #14, 2019 Video, 10 mins., 2 secs. Courtesy of the artist, video by Wael Morcos and Jon Key Hair Painting #15, 2017 Tempera on canvas 106 × 64 inches Courtesy of the artist Xaviera Simmons The Gold Miner’s Mission to Dwell on the Tide Line, 2015 Acrylic on wood panel Overall: 127 × 338 inches Courtesy of the artist and David Castillo Gallery Sundown (Number Five), 2018 Chromogenic color print 60 × 45 inches Courtesy of the artist and David Castillo Gallery Sundown (Number Fifteen), 2018 Chromogenic color print 60 × 45 inches Courtesy of the artist and David Castillo Gallery Tavares Strachan You Belong Here, 2013 Yellow neon, two transformers 22.5 × 10 × 57 inches Courtesy of the artist
immense helpfulness and assistance with these loans. The design studio Wkshps, and in particular Sarah Demeuse and Lizzy Onck, have been wonderful to work with and we greatly appreciate their responsiveness and bold vision for the exhibition catalogue. Lastly, we would like to express our deep gratitude for the work and support of our advisors, Kalia Brooks Nelson and Keely Orgeman, with whom we have worked closely over the course of a year. They generously offered their advice and guidance throughout every stage of this project, making significant time for us despite their many other responsibilities. Without them, this exhibition would not be possible, and we appreciate how willingly they’ve shared their invaluable curatorial knowledge and experience with us.
The 2019 NXTHVN Curatorial Fellows are grateful to the artists in Countermythologies: Edgar Arceneaux, Firelei Báez, Jesse Chun, Bethany Collins, Sky Hopinka, Jarrett Key, Tavares Strachan, and Xaviera Simmons. It has been a privilege to work with them and we are incredibly excited to share their work as part of NXTHVN’s inaugural exhibition. We would like to thank everyone involved in the early stages of planning the NXTHVN residency program and bringing it into existence. Titus Kaphar’s vision for the program remains an inspiration, and we thank him for generously fostering connections with artists, curators, and other professionals in the field. We appreciate the support of Jonathan Brand, Jason Price, and Carrie Mackin, who all have had a hand in making this program a reality and encouraging the careers of emerging artists and curators. Nico Wheadon began her tenure as NXTHVN’s executive director midway through our work on the exhibition, and has graciously lent her leadership and guidance to the project ever since. We would also like to thank Sivan Amar and Susannah Wilson for lending their expertise and assisting in the exhibition’s mounting. We are grateful to the 2019 and 2020 NXTHVN fellows and apprentices for the amazing energy they’ve brought to this community, and to all the volunteers who have assisted with gallery operations. We appreciate the generosity of the lenders: David Castillo Gallery, James Cohan Gallery, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Helyn Goldenberg and Michael Alper, Nish de Gruiter, Kavi Gupta Gallery, PATRON Gallery, and Vielmetter. We would also like to thank all the gallery directors and staff for their
Zalika Azim Riham Majeed Ana Tuazon
ZALIKA AZIM is an artist and curator
ANA TUAZON is a writer, curator, and 2019–20
based in Brooklyn, NY. Conceptualizing her practice through photography, installation, performance, sound, and text, she investigates the ways in which memory, migration, movement, and the body are negotiated throughout the African diaspora. Azim’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including the Dean Collection, the International Center of Photography, Dorsky Gallery, Diego Rivera Gallery, the Instituto Superior de Arte, and the African American Museum in Philadelphia. She has completed solo projects with the Baxter Street Camera Club of New York and SOHO20. Zalika recently served as Imaging and Permanent Collections Associate at The Studio Museum in Harlem. She has assisted on curatorial projects and publications at The Walther Collection, and as the 2014–15 Friends of Education Twelve-Month Intern in the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art. Azim holds a BFA in Photography and Imaging from the Tisch School of the Arts and a BA in Social and Cultural Analysis from New York University.
resident at the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She completed an MA in Art History and Criticism at Stony Brook University in 2018, where her research centered on the practices of women of color within and outside of feminist art traditions, with a focus on art practice as a form of radical social and political engagement. In addition to Countermythologies, her other curatorial work includes the 2018 Southeast Queens Biennial, co-curated through art nonprofit No Longer Empty’s curatorial lab. She has presented at conferences including the College Art Association and Theorizing the Web, and she has written for publications such as Temporary Art Review, Hyperallergic, and Art Practical.
RIHAM MAJEED is an Arab-American emerging curator based in New York City working in the non-profit sector. She previously held a position as Development Associate at the American Folk Art Museum, and currently works in the development department of the arts education organization ArtsConnection. Riham received her Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Psychology from Fairfield University, where her research focused on exclusionary art-historical conventions placed upon Black artists of the twentieth century. Her work as curatorial fellow at NXTHVN is her curatorial debut.
KALIA BROOKS NELSON is a New Yorkbased curator, consultant, educator and arts administrator. She is currently an Adjunct Professor in the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department at Columbia University. Brooks Nelson holds a PhD in Aesthetics and Art Theory from the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. She received her MA in Curatorial Practice from the California College of the Arts in 2006, and was a Helena Rubinstein Fellow in Critical Studies at the Whitney Independent Study Program 2007/2008. She is co-editor of Women and Migration: Responses in Art and History published in 2019 by Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK. She has served as a consulting curator with the City of New York through the Department of Cultural Affairs and Gracie Mansion Conservancy. Brooks Nelson is also currently an ex-officio trustee on the Board of the Museum of the City of New York.
KEELY ORGEMAN is the Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. She has held several curatorial positions at YUAG since joining the museum in 2008, most recently the Alice and Allan Kaplan Associate Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture. In 2017 she organized the exhibition Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light and authored the accompanying catalogue; the exhibition traveled to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Orgeman completed her doctorate at Boston University, where she curated and wrote the catalogue for the Boston University Art Galleryâ€™s exhibition Atomic Afterimage: Cold War Imagery in Contemporary Art in 2008.
REFERENCE IMAGE CREDITS
UNSETTLING THE ARCHIVE AND THE FULLNESS THEREOF: Figure 1: Samuel Lumiere, Bert Williams #15, ca. 1922. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.
COLOPHON Published on the occasion of the exhibition Countermythologies March 7, 2020 – May 10, 2020 at NXTHVN Gallery, New Haven, CT Copyright © 2020 NXTHVN, Inc. nxthvn.com
Figure 2: Ben Vereen performing (in tribute to Bert Williams) at the All-Star Inaugural Gala honoring president-elect Ronald Reagan. Washington, D.C., January 19, 1981.
Curators: Zalika Azim Riham Majeed Ana Tuazon
Figure 3: Video Still of Xaviera Simmons installing her work The Lushness of for the exhibition Poetics of Relation, 2015. Courtesy of Pérez Art Museum, Miami.
Artists: Edgar Arceneaux Firelei Báez Jesse Chun Bethany Collins Sky Hopinka Jarrett Key Tavares Strachan Xaviera Simmons
Figure 4: Jarrett Key performance at La MaMa Galleria for the exhibition Hair Paintings and Other Stories, New York City. February 6, 2018. Courtesy of the artist. Photograph: Isabelle Dow.
THE MYTH OF THE FOREIGNER: Figure 1: Tavares Strachan, You Belong Here, 2014 (installation view from Prospect 3 Biennale, New Orleans, LA), blocked-out neon traveling installation on the Mississippi River, 30 × 80 feet on 100-foot barge. Courtesy of the artist. Photograph: Joe Vincent Grey.
UNITY AS MYTH: Figure 1: Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) during the 200-meter race awards ceremony at the Olympic Games, Mexico City, October 16, 1968. Photograph: Angelo Cozzi. Figure 2: Front page of The Richmond Planet newspaper, May 2, 1902. Figure 3: M. uniflora (Indian Pipe plant) growing at Camano Island State Park, Washington.
Edited by Kalia Brooks Nelson, Keely Orgeman Copy-editing by Wkshps Design by Wkshps Published by NXTHVN NXTHVN 169 Henry St. New Haven, CT 06511 email@example.com www.nxthvn.com
ZALIKA AZIM RIHAM MAJEED ANA TUAZON EDGAR ARCENEAUX FIRELEI BÁEZ JESSE CHUN BETHANY COLLINS SKY HOPINKA JARRETT KEY XAVIERA SIMMONS TAVARES STRACHAN
Published on the occasion of the exhibition Countermythologies March 7, 2020 – May 10, 2020 at NXTHVN Gallery, New Haven, CT Copyright © 2...