Saturday, February 18, 2017

Random Photos

A few random photos from the last month. I've been so busy with school-related work (multiple search committees, thesis projects, etc.) that I haven't been able to get out much. But here are a few images from recent weeks.

The façade of Aljira, a Center for Contemporary
Art, announcing Zachary Fabri's show
From the Wolf to the Fox
which closed on January 15 
A detail from Fabri's Areola: Black
Presidents, digital print
Detail, Zachary Fabri, Eu
Mino Minas Gerais
 (I Mine
Minas Gerais, Brazil), 2010.
Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor
speaking at the opening of Express Newark
at the newly renovated Hahne's Building, Newark 
One of the glassed in reliquary spaces
at the new World Trade Center PATH station 
In Las Cruces, New Mexico 
Las Cruces, New Mexico 
The flyer for the conversation I had
with the utterly brilliant, lovely Christina Sharpe,
who also read from her must-read
book, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being
Marble-polisher, WTC PATH statoin 
Worker relaxing, WTC PATH station
A display being erected or dismantled,
it was unclear which was the case,
WTC PATH station 
Workers polishing all that slippery, easily scuffed
marble, WTC PATH station (perhaps
someone will think of laying rubber pathways
to lessen the possibility of slips and tumbles
when it's rainy or snowy outside)
Union Station, Washington, DC 
What I found when I left my office on Monday;
someone had smashed into my left sideview mirror 
Dorothy Wang of Williams College delivering her talk
at Rutgers-Newark on Amiri Baraka, Ed Dorn,
and the politics of literary history and valuation

Monday, February 13, 2017

Visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American
History and Culture, from the north view
Last week I ventured to Washington, DC to attend the annual Associated Writing Programs Conference, which I'll say a little more about in a subsequent post, but one of the highlights of the trip to DC was the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Designed by British architect David Adjaye in conjunction with the Freelon Group and Davis Brody Bond, the museum sits on the National Mall, across the road from the Washington Monument. Long in planning, the NMAAHC was authorized for construction by the Congress and George W. Bush in 2003, and opened in ceremony led by the United States' first African American president, Barack Obama, last fall, September 14, 2016, to considerable acclaim for its architectural beauty and substantial collection.

The flag of the Bucks of America,
an American Revolutionary War
Black regiment
I'd been warned that acquiring tickets to the NMAAHC would be a challenge, but a colleague, Tayari Jones, was able to score me a ticket for 3:15 pm, and I made sure not to be late. The NMAAHC's building immediately commands the eye, rising in bronze from its site like a series of stacked wicker baskets or bowls that both convey solidity while also shimmering with the shifts in light. (The bronze carapace aims to and convincingly symbolizes a Yoruban crown, invoking one of the ethnic groups from which a sizable portion of African peoples in the New world share descent.) As it turns out, the museum is too large to see in one day, so I chose to head to the historical section, which presents a rich panorama, full of visual and material artifacts, from the 1400s through the present day. To view this section, museumgoers have to descend in an elevator to the bottom-most floor, and then slowly ascend, via a ramp, stairs and escalator, to reach return to the ground floor. In essence, everyone viewing this portion of the museum is physically and symbolically in the ship and in the hold, to borrow two key phrases from Christina Sharpe's remarkable study In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Duke, 2016).

More manacles and shackles
On the day I went, the afternoon crowd wasn't especially heavy at first, though my cabdriver assured me that the museum was, in his experience of the last few months, the most and best-attendance attraction in the city. By the time I'd begun the tour, however, the waves of museumgoers, of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds, began increasing, and I found it a challenge at times, especially at the beginning of the exhibit, to linger over the displays and artifacts. It was also at times uncanny to read the plaques and descriptions, since I was familiar with much of the material from prior study in college and personal research, including in preparation for Counternarratives and other works, but I nevertheless found myself learning a lot that was new, and was impressed at how well the exhibits accessibly contextualized the various eras and moments from the dawn of the Atlantic Slave trade through its decline and the Civil War. At times I found the artifacts so moving I was moved nearly to tears--and at least once did tear up. Among the exhibit's revelations for me was a flag by the Bucks of America, an organization of Revolutionary War veterans whose members included a historical figure who serves as the model for the protagonist of the novel I'm currently working on; another was a whip, formerly wielded by a plantation overseer, whose metal end and thick cording exceeded most models you would find today and emblematized the brutal conditions of African American labor not only in the past but today.

As I walked through the exhibit, taking notes and snapping photos (which are, thankfully, allowed), stopping to discuss the experience with friends, and frequently moved by what I was seeing and reading, I felt incredibly grateful that this institution now existed, that millions of people would have the opportunity to see and experience it, that millions of black people, from the US and across the globe, as well as million of non-black people, would be able to walk through its rooms and learn and see and feel. What I also felt and feel, however, as a black person, as an African American, is that one museum or even several dozen, if one adds in all the smaller and single-person related museums, the various Civil Rights memorials and museums, and various key archives, collections and monuments, will only scratch the surface of my and the collective black experience, especially compared to the many thousands of museums, as well as the vast and expanding network of interlinked and dominant media, dedicated to white people, European culture, and so forth, that exist all over the United States and the globe. That said, the NMAAHC is a gift to the country and the world, and I highly recommend visiting it. I plan to return as soon as I can, to explore more of it. To all who made it possible, I say thank you!

My timed pass 
The ground floor
The beginning of the historical exhibit
A visual display featuring scenes
from African American history
Closeup: James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston
In the elevator: Booker T. Washington
From the 1400s on
"The Atlantic Creoles"
Actual slave manacles and shackles 
Timber and iron ballast from
a slave ship, the São José 
Nat Turner's Bible 
A close-up of Nat Turner's Bible
An important historical list
And another
The country, divided after the entry
of my native state, Missouri
Point of Pines Cabin, an actual stlave
cabin from Edisto, South Carolina
Artifacts, including a note in Arabic 
Harriet Tumbman's artifacts,
including a shawl and a Bible
Historical marker for Nicodemus,
one of the original free Black town
established in Kansas 
Inside one of the formerly segregated
train cars, from the 1940s 
A multimedia tableau from the
Civil Rights era, with Medgar
Evers at bottom right 
Bayard Rustin display
(Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
with Rustin at right)
Malcolm X
("by any means necessary")
A Black Unity jacket
(belonging to a Vietnam veteran) 
Amiri Baraka and Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure)
Black Power display 
Muhammad Ali and
Black Panther badges
A young Nikki Giovanni
Toni Morrison receiving
the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1993 
The 1990s
Public Enemy

A Langston Hughes quote that graces
the final wall leading out of the
history exhibit
Oprah Winfrey Theater
(Oprah donated $22 million+ to the museum)
Yours truly (photo by Tayari Jones)