Black In Design: Opening Keynote, Hamza Walker

Black In Design: Opening Keynote, Hamza Walker


Good evening and welcome. Just since you all went quiet,
as you saw Hamza and Ken walk by, I thought, why not? We should just get up. I think there are other people
who are still coming in, so, really, this is my opportunity
to just say a few words. My name is– because there are
a lot of people from outside, I should say who I am. My name is Moshen Mostafavi. I’m the dean of the
Graduate School of Design here at the GSD. And it’s a real
honor and pleasure to welcome you
all to what I know will be an important, exciting,
and very productive few days here at the GSD. As you probably know from the
material and the title here– Black in Design,
Designing Resistance, Building Coalitions– that we’re here to, on
the one hand, celebrate, and on the other
to really discuss new possibilities,
new discourses, new ways in which we could
collaborate and come together to really construct a different
kind of agenda for action. The celebration is focusing
on the contribution of the African diaspora
to the design fields. The mission, if you like, of the
conference of Black and Design, which is organized by the
GSDs by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design– African-American Students
Union, known as GSDAASU recognizes the contributions
of the African diaspora to the design fields
and promotes discourse around the agency of
the design profession to address and dismantle the
institutional barriers faced by our communities. Some of you might be familiar
with the work of a Caribbean British cultural theorist
called Stuart Hall, who worked a lot in the 1960s,
’70s, and ’80s in the UK, and was really a
very significant, important contributor to the
field of cultural studies in the UK– but also really
influential on a number of other cultural theories
such as Paul Gilroy that, maybe, some
people would know. He wrote a book
called, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack,
and other very important books. But Stuart Hall, talking about
culture from his perspective– from the position of what– in the UK, at that time,
was sort of the Birmingham School of Critical Thinking– focused on the
importance of culture as the critical site for
social action and intervention, where power relations are both
established and potentially unsettled. I think Stuart Hall’s
description of culture, in some way, resonates with
the aspirations of this event, with the aspirations of this
conference, where we could almost say that design,
or architecture, or the design fields together
are the critical sites of social action
and intervention where power relations are both
established and potentially unsettled. And in a sense you could
say they are reestablished. They are unsettled through
new formations, new kinds of imaginary projects. Within the context of the
Graduate School of Design– for those of you who are not
familiar with our school, but you do know that we’re
involved with architecture, and landscape architecture, and
urban planning, urban design, design studies more broadly. We’re constantly engaging with
this project of understanding power structures but
the manner in which through our reimagining of
new kinds of design projects we are also unsettling, and
at the same time, redesigning, reimagining alternative
possibilities and alternative social
economic structures through the way in
which we utilize design as the agency of
social transformation. This is done through, what
we call, design studios with a dozen or so students
and two or three faculty working for three months
during one semester to sort of imagine
these projects. Now you know that this
conference is also the second of what
I know and hope will be a series of ongoing
conferences building on a very important
event here in 2015, and some of the organizers of
that event are here with us– where, what I found as one of
the most exciting and important aspects of that– talking about the agency
of design to establish and potentially
unsettle is the way in which the
conference has really put as its mandate to
find new ways to construct new organizational structures. And by that, I mean
the fact that there is such an incredible
diversity of speakers here. It is not just simply
focusing on design within a conventional
sense, but it is saying that it requires
new collaborations, which is much, much broader. At the end of the
last conference I was genuinely moved by
how the conference managed to show that the combination
of these various individuals, who were at the conference,
could really not only speak of new friendships,
new affiliations, new collaborations,
but it really opened up a very different
way of conceiving of contemporary design practice. This, I think, is one of the
really significant aspects of the conference,
and I really want to thank the
organizers for pursuing this particular
direction, in a way, and not seeing the conference
as something that’s too narrow. And I think the spirit
of the conference is much broader and very
important in that sense. So, in terms of the thematics of
design resistance and building coalition, while the political
climate we face today is tenuous, the forces
of systemic injustice are obviously something
that is not new, and it is with that
in mind that we want to explore
design as resistance and show how designers are
advocates and activists. We want to highlight the
contributions made by leaders across nontraditional fields. In creating spaces for
actions and representations of resistance, through
this exploration we will broaden the
definition of design, understanding it through the
lens of these visionaries in their work,
which we hope will become much more engaged
also with our school as we move forward. So for us, this is very
much a learning process. I want to thank our
student organizers, Amanda Miller MDes ’17, Natasha
Hicks, MUP and MDes ’19, Marcus Mello, MArch
1 and MUP ’18, Armando Sullivan MUP ’18,
Chanel Williams, MUP ’18. Our sponsors for this event
are the Graham Foundation. I’m really delighted
that Sarah Herda, the head of that organization,
is present and representing the foundation. I also want to thank the
Hideo Sasaki Foundation here in Watertown, and I
think Patrick Bassett is present and representing
that foundation here tonight. Also, our collaborators
for this conference are the Black in Design Advisory
Cohort, the Deans Diversity Initiative, Office
of Communications and Public Programs, The Just
City Lab, Loeb Fellowship, Office of Student
Services that have all contributed to this event. So without any further
delay, would you please welcome Natasha
and Marcus, who will introduce the conference? Thank you. Thank you, Mohsen. Hello and welcome again to the
Black in Design Conference. My name is Natasha Hicks. And my name is Marcus Mello. And we are the co-presidents
of the Harvard Graduate School of Design
African-American Student Union and two of the organizers of
this year’s edition of Black in Design. We’re excited that
you’re joining us after the groundbreaking
conference in 2015, and are so grateful
to the organizers of the inaugural
event, including the co-chairs from 2015,
Courtney Sharpe and Carol Michel. Thank you for inspiring us
and for providing the platform from which we envision
this year’s Black in Design Conference, Designing
Resistance, Building Coalitions. This conference continues to
recognize the contributions of the African diaspora
to the design field and promote discourse around the
agency of the design profession to address and dismantle the
institutional barriers faced by our communities. We are excited
for you to join us on this year’s
exploration of designers as advocates and activists. This weekend, we’re broadening
the definition of design. We’ve invited a diverse
set of individuals that identify with design
ranging from artists to policy makers. By bringing this group
together in conversation around these themes
we hope to reveal how design is creating spaces
for action and representations of resistance. The conference would not be
possible without the support of our generous
sponsors, and we want to extend a special thanks
to the Graham Foundation for advance studies
in the fine arts. We are also grateful
for financial support from the Graduate School of
Design’s various programs and departments, as well as
the countless discussions with the school’s
administration, staff, and gracious
faculty who encouraged us throughout the planning
process and are recognized in the program. We are also appreciative of
the Hideo Sasaki Foundation, and specifically from
the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the Loeb
Fellowship, as well as The Just City Lab, who is
supporting and facilitating Sunday’s workshop. We would now like to
introduce Hamza Walker, our keynote speaker
for this evening. Since September 2016, Hamza
has been the executive director of LAX Art in Los Angeles,
one of the city’s most important platforms for
emerging and under-recognized contemporary art. Prior to joining LAX Art, Walker
served as associate curator and director of education
at the Renaissance society at the University of Chicago and
co-curated with Aram Moshayedi, the 2016 edition of the
Hammer museum’s Made in LA. Walker continues to teach at
the Art Institute of Chicago as an adjunct professor. Walker is also the winner of
both the 2004 for Walter Hopps award for curatorial achievement
and the 2010 Ordway prize. Recent exhibitions
Walker has organized include reconstitution at
LAX Art with Catherine Taft– A Painting is a Painting isn’t
a Painting at San Francisco’s KADIST– Wadada Leo Smith, Ankhrasmation,
The Language Scores 1967 to 2015 at the Renaissance
Society with John Corbett– Teen Paranormal Romance
and Suicide Narcissist– two group exhibitions
also at the Ren– and Black is, Black ain’t
at the Renaissance Society. The last exhibition,
Black is, Black ain’t will be the subject of Hamza’s talk. The show opened at the
Renaissance society in Chicago, now, nearly
10 years ago in 2008, and what was a landmark
exhibition at the time, is relevant to our
present moment– could not be more
immediate and urgent. Bringing together works from
an incredible range of artists, including Mickalene Thomas,
Glen Lygon, William Pope El, Hank Willis Thomas, Janet
Jackson, and many others– the exhibition, as Hamza
writes in the introduction to the catalog, surveys a moment
in which race is retained yet is simultaneously rejected. That dynamic, which is what
the show’s title draws on, Black is, Black ain’t, is as
fundamental and crucial to 2017 as it was in 2008. And we’re still looking
forward to his talk serving as a point of departure
for the rich conversations about identity that will unfold
over the next day and a half. So please extend a warm
welcome to Hamza Walker. Thank you so much for the
really, really warm welcome. I’d like to thank Amanda,
Natasha, Marcus, and Ken for the invitation. And I’m deeply honored at
having the chance to engage with my siblings not simply in
the colloquial sense, brothers and sisters, but in
the professional sense. My host’s consideration of
design in the expanded field allows for my
presence here today. And I’m really
glad knowing that I have a colleague in the
audience, Dan Byers, who will, I think, sympathize
with a lot of the things I’m about to say
about the field. Curators, what do they do? Why do they do? The job is relatively simple,
survey cultural production and mount exhibitions. I’m a curator of
contemporary art. The divide between myself
and other museum curators is hardly a stylistic one. In a nutshell, I work with the
living as opposed to the dead. But the question as to what
we ask of art is the same. The art and artifacts,
whose care with which we are entrusted, are a mirror. It is through them that we
say things about ourselves to ourselves. Who are we as individuals,
as a society, as a species? On the one hand, there
is the object of study, and its attendant questions–
the who, what, when, where, how, and why kind of
materialist facts. On the other hand, there are
the more philosophical questions about the nature of
the arts experience and the institutions responsible
for mediating that experience. How do we make meaning
around art and artifacts? This entails not so much
thoughts about the objects themselves, but
thoughts about them as the objects of contemplation. In other words, thinking about
how they are thought about. When it comes to the past,
the art and artifacts have substantial purchase
on our imaginations insofar as that’s
all that survives. But just as we ask
these things, say, about what life was like in
some distant then and there, what if those questions
were posed to the present? In short, what does
contemporary art say about now? Can contemporary art
be used as a means of theorizing the present in
a manner reserved for history? I would never assume the
present could achieve that kind of legibility,
not because it can’t, but because it robs the
idea of its power, which is as a question. So can the present
be made legible through contemporary art? That’s the question
that drives what I do. If contemporary
art is illegible, maybe it’s because the present
is illegible– or illegible insofar as there are no answers. This is contemporary art as the
object of contemplation turn speculation, a series
of maybes and what if’s couched in an artist
historically discursive chain of conditionals extending
back from our own flat, monochromatic picture
plains with dates painted on them to
a Renaissance past when there were horizon
lines which to speak. Sometimes contemporary art is
where the road bottoms out– the last stop on the
museum’s subway ride– as far as this train goes. And that’s Daniel Buren. That’s when the art’s
experience gives way to life, or Life Savers, as
the candies Felix Gonzalez Torres would want. Maybe contemporary
art is where we witness the birth of subjects
with newfound sociopolitical agency. Or maybe contemporary art is
where art fakes its death only to begin again a la
the Rites of Spring. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe,
maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, Maybe,
maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe. Rauschenberg, Claes
Oldenburg’s wedding, Oldenburg had a stamp produced
for everybody’s tongue. I love this picture. Maybe. So that was just all
shit I really like– inspires me. Ending with this iconic work,
In the Hood by David Hammons, which is from 1993– well in advance of the
shooting of Trayvon Martin and the rise of Mark
Zuckerberg, for that matter. But it’s through
exhibitions that I try to contextualize
contemporary art both socially an art historically. What does work by living
artists say about now? And how and to what extent
is that is the work of art– and how and to what
extent is the work art historically discursive? How, if at all,
does it build upon the last canonical movements? So I’ve been asked
to speak about Black is, Black ain’t, an exhibition
fast approaching its 10 year anniversary. It was mounted in 2008. I thought I would walk you
through the exhibition, open up the files, and maybe
use it as a point of departure to talk about then versus
now, but first things first. It was mounted at the
Renaissance society at the University
of Chicago, where I served as associate curator
for 22 years from 1994 to 2016. And I think– is there
a laser pointer on this? There should be a laser pointer. There we go. So this is downtown Chicago. This is the campus of the
University of Chicago. And the Renaissance
Society is right there. It’s in Cobb Hall. So here’s another view
of the main quadrangle. And it’s here. It’s in that building,
the Historical Quadrangle of the UsC. So it occupies the
top floor of what was the first building built
on the historic quadrangle of the University of
Chicago, Cobb Hall. It’s a multipurpose
classroom facility, and it still has
that same function today from when it was
built. So the Renaissance Society occupies the gallery,
proper occupies this section here for the whole run
of the fourth floor. And it occupies– it’s 30 feet
from the floor to the ceiling, so although there is
a fifth floor, which is all in here, that’s
all basically mechanical. There a couple of
offices up there. It stops here, and then
the Renaissance society goes up for 30 feet all
the way up to the ceiling. So this is the interior. And it’s symmetrical. Right now we’re facing east. So east, west is symmetrical. And it’s any photograph of
the Renaissance society, it’s pretty much telltale. If it’s an older photograph,
you’ll see the truss work, and you’ll also see these
corners, these bays, which are kind of a signature
giveaway of the gallery. It’s this really crazy, neo
Gothic, origami-like space. It’s very funny, one
critic once accused it of being a chilly white cube. Clearly, I do not
trust this critic, because he does not know how
to look at the space itself. Why would I trust what
he has to say about art. It is not a cube. And here’s the floor
plan, and I’ll go back to the floor plan in a second. And this grid actually
marks where the truss work that’s since been taken out. It was very handy in
terms of locating walls. But I thought I
would include this since it’s an audience of
architects and designers. So Black is Black
ain’t was conceived as part of a trilogy
of group exhibitions that had their
genesis in my thinking about the nature of
thematic exhibitions, how they’re developed. Black is was the
second of the three. The first was titled
Meanwhile in Baghdad, and the last was titled
Several Silences. There were three
exhibitions, and they were about between a year
and a year and a half apart. And there were three exhibitions
that I could distill down to one word themes, namely,
war, race, and silence. So I thought I would go
through the two shows that bookended Black is first. Here we go. So this is Meanwhile in Baghdad. And it’s a group exhibition,
and it had eight artists total. So, Jonathan Monk,
this is Jenny Holzer. Collages by Maryam Jafri. Some details in there. Photographs are
by Walead Beshty. And these photographs
are of the– the show was 2007, and that was
just on the eve of the surge, as it was called, led
by General Petraeus. And it was the peak, in terms of
bloody events and car bombings, of our incursion into Iraq. These photographs
were actually taken before we went into Iraq in
2003 by Walead Beshty, who was spending time in Berlin. And I believe he may have
had a DAAD grant at the time. He photographed the
Iraqi consulate, which had been abandoned– the Iraqi consulate
in Germany, which had been abandoned in 1992, when
the first round of sanctions due to the Gulf War– around the time of the Gulf
War with the Iraq’s invasion into Kuwait– when those went into effect. So that the council, it had
been abandoned, Walead went in, and he photographed
a building that had fallen into ruins over
the course of the 1990s. He then forgot to take
the film out of his bag when he went to the
airport, and it got X-rayed, so the film got
completely bleached out, so it produced this really
grainy, kind of washed out veil, kind of,
over the picture. So the question as
to like just when these photographs were taken–
they kind of are out of time. And I took them as reference
to basically deluding that it had taken
place in Baghdad. So these pictures actually
function as a reference, kind of a portal– or a reference back
to the first Gulf War. There’s another one. Jenny Holzer. This is a series of redacted
letters largely about torture. Jonathan Monk, Dead Man. The figure was made by
the same craftspeople who worked for Madame
Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The figure is modeled on
Chris Burden when he– a very young Chris Burden. I think it’s 1973, ’74– actually maybe before that. It maybe ’72. Chris Burden did the
performance where he requested that he be shot. It was with a 22 caliber
pistol that he shot in the arm as his performance. So this is a 22-year-old
Chris Burden that’s modeled. And he has a green– he would often wear a green
army jacket, an olive green army jacket from the ’70s. It’s just called Dead Man This is Ann Messner. This is a broadsheet that she
produced a series of essays by different intellectuals about
our invasion in 2000– right after the war, 2003 it started. So they were free. Probably could take
more photos by Walead. Jannis Kounellis,
a late Kounellis. This Kounellis is about–
oh, the show is ’07. This Kounellis dates from ’06. These army cots with
strips of canvas that had been painted
kind of a brick blood red, and the one that’s hung on the
walls is hung with meat hooks. And this is a moment– I did this show. It was a moment when the
war by ’07 had receded from the headlines, the front of the
paper to kind of page three, page four of the first
section of the newspaper. In essence it had become less
the figure and more the ground, right? So discussions about
the war as a figure is something that we could
talk about as an issue. It simply became the
backdrop basically. So we were simply at war, right? And I thought of that as a
real turning point, or moment, in ’07. These are Maryam
Jafri’s collages. These are articles
from newspapers over the course of the 20th
century, where she took out any references that would make
them locatable in terms of when and where. And then when you
read these articles, which date from the
late 19th century all the way up through
the ’70s, ’80s, maybe 90s, you would think they
were referring to Syria. To the war in ’03. Some more views. This is Matt Davis, paratrooper. It’s kind of uncanny in
terms of suicide bomb. Series of etchings
by Daniel Heyman. He’s from Philadelphia. He was invited– he met
a human rights lawyer who went to to interview prisoners
who were held in Abu Ghraib, and she actually invited
Daniel to come along with her. And Daniel did a series of
drawings and took plates– he did these etchings
on the spot– drawings and etchings. And he was over, I
think, in Jordan. And it’s interesting
just in terms of them being goya, etching
as the medium of war. Adel Abidin, and he
is an Iraqi living in, I think it’s Stockholm now. But he went back to Baghdad
and made a beautiful, kind of heart wrenching
video of a young girl he saw playing with
rubble in the streets, transferring these little bits
of rubble between these two spoons and singing this very
beautiful, kind of nursery rhyme about kind of a love
song to the moon and the stars. And that’s the soundtrack
that goes with this video. It’s just slow motion of
her moving this rubble back and forth. So that was
Meanwhile in Baghdad. This is Several Silences. So in terms of these shows
again, both bookend Black is, Black ain’t. And again, this is
another group show– about seven, eight artists. This is an installation view. So these crystal globes,
they’re solid crystal. They’re about eight
inches in diameter, and they are a hundred of them
scattered around the gallery floor. Harry Shearer, video piece
called the Silent Echo Chamber. And it’s a series. He got the B roll, essentially,
of broadcast news footage where you have individuals
who, the camera is rolling before they go to make the
presentation on the news, or it’s them sitting
in silence as they’re listening to somebody
else’s commentary to which they’re then asked to respond. So it’s a real rogues gallery. You’ve got Henry Kissinger. I gave Kissinger the
biggest monitor of all. James Carville, John
McCain, Hillary Clinton. And they’re all just
sitting there in silence– these kind of video
portraits of them. Quite a beautiful piece, yeah. Karl Rove. Another view. Troy Brauntuch. These are these dark, conte
crayon drawings on muslin stretched over stretcher bars. They’re based on photographs
of Barney’s that was downtown and filled with dust after
2001, after the towers fell. All this dust came
into the stores, and so it turned the
Barney’s, the men’s store, into a kind of catacomb. These are racks that
had shirts on them. Gran Fury, the collective
responsible for the campaign silence equals death, which
is about AIDS in the 1980s. There were two audio
recordings of Silence. One of them was the
Minute of Silence. They were on vinyl, so
these are on opposite ends of the gallery. There were two turntables. One of them played the
one minute of silence after Princess Diana’s death. So someone did like a– Jonty Semper, the artist did
a field recording essentially of the city coming to a halt to
observe the women in silence. And the other recording’s
by Paul Dickinson, and it’s something
called room tone. And he went into the now defunct
Terror Museum of Art, which used to be on Michigan Avenue. And he asked the entire
staff of the museum to gather in the cafeteria and
had them just stand silently while he did a recording of
the room tone of the cafeteria. Room tone is when
they make– they don’t need to do it any more. They do it, but it’s digital. You need to make a recording
of the silence of a given room in order to insert
it into a film where there were
moments of dialogue, and if there’s a
break in the dialogue, and you need to drop
the silence in order to make the sound contiguous. Because the silence
of a given space is particular to that space. So they would just yell out
when they would shoot a scene. Somebody on the set
would yell out room tone, and everybody had to go
silent while they just took, like, 10 seconds of silence
from the room for that purpose. I don’t know if
that makes sense. This is another view. The glass spheres all on the
floor are by Ryan Gander. And they are– good,
do have a detail. This piece is a very long title,
which I’ll never remember, but it involves
a stack of paper, which is blown by the wind
as it came into my study– something along those
lines– very narrative, very poetic title. So it features a laser
etched sheet of paper in this curled
motion as if it were paper falling to the ground. So there are hundreds
of these again scattered around the gallery, and
they’re distributed randomly. What you do is you
take 100 plastic balls, and you just throw
them in the space. And wherever they
go or land, it’s come to a stop, that’s where
you place these spheres. And this is Harold Mendez. These are empty
bulletin boards that have had all the announcements
stripped from them, and these bulletin boards were
on the campus of the University of Illinois and Chicago UIC. So these were like Robert
Rauschenberg White Paintings in terms of those having
been the inspiration for John Cage’s 4’33. So these two photographs–
this one is by Geissler Sann. This is of a site,
a training facility in Germany where they trained
soldiers in close quarters combat. So they build a fake
Middle Eastern village in which to train soldiers. And so this is in
the basement of one of the public facilities. So it’s this really
bleak, bleak image. You could see these very large
boot prints in this hallway. And then this photograph
by Lewis Baltz, who had access to a
number of laboratories and scientific facilities
in France, actually. I think he was shooting these
in France some time in the ’90s. But this is an anechoic
chamber used to calibrate electronic equipment for sound. Can’t remember the name of the
French company who did this. So these are considered some of
the most suffocatingly silent, if you’ve ever been in
an anechoic chamber. In fact, there used to
be one here at Harvard. That’s the one
that John Cage went into when he made the
comment that there is no such thing as silence
because you’re always going to hear– what he said at
the time, what people purported it to be your nervous system,
which I think has since been disproven. Yeah. So the show was really
hellbent on having it really revolve around a
kind of symmetry in terms of it’s layout. So those were the
bookends, a show about war, a show about race, a
show about silence. I really wanted to distill– came to this point in terms of
organizing group exhibitions, there were a labor
of love, but I really felt like you can
get lost with them– very hard to do. And somehow I kept thinking
about them as like, I don’t know. They all felt like these kind of
terminal points going at them, and I wanted to be
more fluid about them. A show is a show is
a show is a show. So I wanted to see how many
group shows I could just drop– how many I had in me– and to keep them,
again, as simple as possible thematically. But obviously,
with those silence being a very open and
broad topic, race, war. Those are huge topics. And that, for me, is really
when the act of curating kind of comes into being. It’s like here, you know. I mean as far as topics
go it’s like vomit. It’s like here, curate
this, mother fucker. So I was trolling through a
lot of war related art that is being produced at the time. And so they say you’re going
to take on race in that way. How do you begin
to structure that? And so it was really
slow going at first. But show’s, first and foremost,
for me are discursive. They talk to other shows
about the same issue as well. So they can kind of
take that bearing. And again, like
with the war show, Meanwhile in
Baghdad, I was saying it really marked
a transition where the war went from being
a figure more to ground. So there’s usually
something, some kind of pole buried
somewhere in there that I’m kind of hung up on. So with Black Is, in terms
of the exhibitions that it– it had been a freestyle black
romantic Valerie Cassel’s Double Consciousness,
Maurice Berger’s Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art. Tyler Stallings did
the show Whiteness, a Wayward Construction. Thelma’s Black Male, ’92, ’93. And it had been– I don’t know what– more than 10 years or
something since freestyle. So one of the things
about approaching the show was after freestyle,
Thelma put on the table the idea that black artists– it’s a whole generation
of young black artists no longer obligated to
address the issue of race, free to be you and me. And I took that as
like OK, but that doesn’t mean that the issue
of race is going away. It just means that Elvis
has left the building, but the building is still there. So that was in, large part,
the starting point for it. The other side being that
shows of black artists could– and along with that, by
extension of Thelma’s thinking, in terms of her going into
freestyle, by extension, shows of black artists
could no longer substitute for shows about race. That was really the
upshot of freestyle, kind of the takeaway. So to go back in– so I decided I would try and
institute quotas in terms of– to see if I could
get it 50/50 in terms of black and non-black artists. I got close. I think I got 60/40 maybe. I thought it was a healthy
place to institute quotas. But more than anything,
I wanted to show– you know, friends would say,
I remember Huey Copelands. I was like, man, you’re going
to do a show about race, really? It’s like, yeah. And I would say it, and
everybody would just kind of like get quiet. And then I actually– I was like, no,
but it’ll be fun. I really thought that. So that was one thing. The second thing is it really
came out of a discussion with my therapist. I went in, and I went on
a tear at a whole thing, I said I would never do
a show about race ever. And then I just went
off on this thing. And then after 45 minutes,
she’s like, oh, session’s over. It looks like you’re going
to do a show about race. And I was like, you’re kidding. I just went on for
45 minutes about not doing this, which is
great because I’m usually drawn to things I shouldn’t do. Nobody would do a
war show, right? So that was really the impetus. So this is the file,
flotsam and jetsam, stuff that I was
collecting at the time that informed my thinking socially. So when I talk about
contextualizing the work of art socially,
I mean that literally. What does the work of art
have to say about what I just read in the newspaper? And in terms of
trying to distinguish what’s the work of arts
relationship to information, right? Sharpton– I don’t if, maybe,
anybody remembers this moment, which is just unbelievable that
Sharpton and Strom Thurmond– I just can’t believe this. Sharpton is the
descendant of slaves that were owned by Strom
Thurmond’s family– unbelievable irony. The burial. But of course it’s
back from the dead. It’s Halloween. Black firsts. I used to joke
with my mom, I want to be the eighth
black astronaut. I don’t have to be the first. I don’t like Tang anyway. Then he announced his
candidacy after I’d put the show on the books. So this was something of a game
changer and also not in a way, but being in the same
boat in terms of rate at which you go gray, I
really loved this photograph. I mean, it happens
to all presidents, but it is truly amazing when
I see this photograph now. It’s like, what, who is he? The show is multifaceted. One of the biggest,
in my mind– you know, people want to talk about
Chicago architectural history. The most significant
development to the city skyline was the dismantling of the
Chicago housing projects, the tearing down of the
Robert Taylor Homes. I went to high
school in Baltimore. Coming down to Chicago, and
driving down the Dan Ryan, and seeing this march of towers
was really just incredible– like, damn, really intense– so idea that those
were torn down. And it’s funny. They were kind of
like the pyramids. In some sense, nobody– I mean, people knew
when they were built. But they kind of didn’t have a
history past a certain point, and they were going
to be there forever. The idea that those things
would come down in my lifetime, if you said that to me when
I moved to Chicago in ’84, I mean, no way. But I’ve just been informed
that the head of the housing authority was forced
to declare that the transformation of the
Chicago Housing Authority. They had Daley put forth
the plan from the ’90s. The transformation
is now complete. That’s like saying
a city is complete. We’re done with Boston. That’s it. Not going to build shit. It’s finished. So they tore them down in
favor of mixed site housing– and all the ensuing problems. The developers wanted to build
the high end housing first, so they could see
their profits back before building the
housing for poor folk. So a lot of them were
subsequently displaced. So the issue of do people
return after they’re displaced once these
towers had been torn down. They’re finding
out, no, they don’t. It was in the news. Katrina. And not Katrina per se,
but the use of how federal funds are being distributed,
dispersed for whom. This was the formal, kind of
the end of terms of efforts at integrating schools. I’m trying to go back to
what specific case was, where the big case was. And it was since– I’m not going to
go all the way back to like Bakke versus
California, but it wasn’t that. That’s a much, much
older, older, older case. But this is one that pretty
much put affirmative action, when it comes to higher
education, at an end. So just in terms of
what the pictures– the stories of the
pictures tell– concerned black folk. I ain’t going nowhere fast. Ads. This is a Nivea ad on
Cottage Grove and 57th. This is a Dove ad
that got pulled– I don’t know if anybody
remembers this– because they didn’t realize
that they were saying something about life in the
spectrum of women. So I had to actually go and find
a magazine that had this in it. I was like, get that
shit out of the trash. I want that Dove ad. I do not want them
to forget this. You get lighter and skinnier
if you use our shit. So they caught hell. Then this was just my
coffee mug warmer one day. And it’s apparently
really good conditioner. I can’t take it. I know people swear by it. Michael Gillespie,
the film historian, he swears by this stuff. It’s just crazy as hell. Then there was this ad. That was the Damon
Wayans joke in one of those– the parody of Scary
Movie that was then used for, I think it was a cable channel. Was that Oprah’s cable channel? TV one, yeah. That’s it. So this is the floor
plan for Black is. And one of the things about
the Renaissance Society is it’s extremely flexible
in its space– in terms of where the walls placed. We could build the shows
from the inside out, meaning we can build to suit. Whatever the demands
of the artwork are, that’s how we approached
where to put walls. So this is going
in the entrance. And now the pieces. This is Carl Pope. And it’s funny. Carl Pope did a
whole rash of these– now I’m in a blank. They’re signs that are tied
to lamp posts, small run, but their web press. I think its web press, which
is a kind of a silkscreening. But when they do
this rainbow pattern, they just basically
open up all the nozzles to get the rainbow pattern. It’s a very cheap
form of printing. But he did a whole
series of signs– dozens, and dozens, and dozens
of these that he would then hang in a [inaudible]. And I asked Carl
to be in the show. And I said to Carl, Carl– and he was like, great, man. I’d love to be in the show. And so I said, well, I
only want one poster. And he was like, what do you
mean, you only want one poster? I said, I want one
poster, and I’m going to use that poster as
the invitation for the show– like that’s the piece. It’ll go out to 10,000 people. And Carl said, but– man– what? I’m not even going
to be in the show. Oh man, no, I got to
talk to you later. And he just hung up on me. And he wanted to know
what I do for a living. And so I had to cajole. So he finally said,
OK, he’d do it. And so this was the
poster for the show, again, which I consider a
work of art in and of itself. It’s a really great piece. [inaudible] And this piece is– it’s a quote from
Negro Sunshine. It’s taken from Gertrude Stein. But the neon signs have
mirror on the front– or mirror on the back in
order to amplify the light. So what Glen did is he had them
mirror the front of the neon, so that the neon sign is– it is technically an eclipse. So what you’re looking at, the
mirrored front of the tubes, it’s mirrored, so it’s dark. There’s no light being cast. It’s all being reflected off
of the mirror, just the light itself, but then some of
it is being reflected off that mirror back
out onto the wall. I mean, I love the phrase
itself, Negro Sunshine. But I think his operation
on the words themselves at the material
level is brilliant. Installation views. In the foreground, Randy Regier. So that’s if you go
left into the gallery. Paul D’Amato in the foreground. And this is Daniel [inaudible],,
who’s an artist from Germany. Rob Pruitt to the
right, the gold chains. And Rodeny McMillian
in the foreground. Edgar Arceneaux
in the foreground. Todd Gray in the
foreground here. So yeah, this is a performance,
a kind of a shamanistic ritual, which I just read as a kind of– an attempt at erasure. Edgar Arceneaux, Failed
Attempt at Crystallization– the name of the piece. It’s a copy of roots. That’s crystalized sugar. Right So he had to dunk it
in a supersaturated solution of sugar over, and over, and
over to grow the crystals. Then it’s upside
down on a mirror. Beautiful piece. Hank Willis Thomas. For Whom the Bell Curves. And that was the
book, The Bell Curve. To the left and to the
right of this piece, the right is based on these are
all points of the slave trade along the– I guess it would be the
west coast of Africa. And on the right are
points along the East Coast of the United States. I believe there might be an
island down there somewhere. Rodney McMillian. So class. It’s about time, this piece. I mean, it’s a
cardboard cutout– a foamcore cutout six
but six feet high. And Rodney McMillian–
this chair, which I just love this chair. It’s owned by Wilhelm Sherman. He’s a really big
time collector. And I had to meet
and sit with Rodney. Rodney’s a tough customer. And he said, man, I don’t know
if the chair’s about race. And I said, no, no, I think
it’s this whole tradition of African-American
assemblage, which is quite Joe Overstreet, Betye
Saar, Noah Purifoy, that’s particular to the west coast. So the idea of transformation
from trash to gold in some sense. These objects that
are discarded, they may become
objects of beauty, so we can bring it
into that metaphor. And what I liked about
this chair from Rodney is that it just
negated all of that. So it’s fucked up outside,
and it’s fucked up indoors. There’s no transformation. It’s magic because of the fact
that there is no magic here. Jonathan Calm photographs. And Carrie is beautiful. When he saw the
show, he goes, yeah, I redid those photographs, man. Cabin in the Sky. So even though it’s a
total, I don’t know, photography 101 exercise. Daniel wrote, these drawings– that’s a portal. He considers this a
portal that you veritably transported space time. It’s a portal linking the
Cabrini-Green housing projects to the metropolitan correctional
facility in downtown Chicago, which is a Harry Weese building. It’s that triangular
building, downtown Chicago. So these drawings all
represent the kind of destruction of space
time as you go through– that would be one. They’re really quite exquisite
in terms of line quality. And then this is the blueprint
for the prison of the drawing. And then this is
the company, which was a real company apparently,
that Daniel imagines would have built the tunnel. So this is Paul D’Amato,
these two photographs. And Paul was photographing the– he’s better known as a
portrait photographer. He was photographing
the subjects in and around the housing
projects in Chicago. And he was doing
this at the same time that those housing projects
were being dismantled, so he actually documented– and you’ll see a
photograph later– the dismantling of the housing
of the projects themselves. Yeah, a really neat– so that’s just a very
small body of work within the larger body of work. So this door is from
the Henry Horner Home. And this is Tasha. Tashma. It’s kind of a girl
with the pearl earring. And he’s shooting
with a four by five, so it’s not a hit and run in
terms of a little 35 millimeter camera. It’s got to go and put the
black cloth over his head. He’s actually got to have an
exchange with the subject he’s photographing. So he did three or four
photographs of Tashma, all of which are quite
beautiful, so I really respect the fact that
people from around the way got to know Paul in terms
of engagement with them. So it’s a very formal
street portraiture. McLean Thomas. Zealand Pang. Zealand Pang. One of the earliest pieces
that I want to put in the show. She’s from Taiwan. But this piece is all– she calls this fetishito. And it’s like a [inaudible]. Black talismanic object
infested with powers. But this is a little– it’s a purse in the shape
of a very tight mini skirt that she’s then encrusted with
these black sparkles and then these peacock feathers, all
of which are made in China. And the kind of
sculptural logic is based on Japanese
floral arrangement– formal floral
arrangements, so ikebana. McLean Thomas. A lovely six photo. So I think a fetishito in
this is remnants of things from my childhood in the ’70s. And this is a really
important point in the show. Demetrius Oliver on the left. Jason Lazarus on the right. Both of these are
by Emmett Till. The one on the left
is called Till. It’s by Demetrius Oliver. The one of the right is Emmett
Till’s Graveside June 5th, 2005, I believe,
is the full title. The date, I think, is June 5th. And Jason Lazarus, who
is white, went down– and I still, to this day,
cannot figure out even though I’ve asked him point blank what
was the inspiration for him to decide to go down to Emmett
Till’s graveside on the day that they exumed the body. When they reopened
the case, they had to get the
family’s permission. They did the DNA test
to confirm that it was, in fact, Emmett
Till, because one of the parts of defense was– they said, ma’am, you don’t
even know if this is your son. That was one of the arguments
that was presented at the time. So they had to do
DNA testing to prove that it was Emmett Till when
they reopened the case back in 2005. I don’t know if
anybody remembers that. But Jason got there after
they had taken the body away, so it’s just the– this is Demetrius Oliver. So they just covered
up the grave, and he took this
photograph, which I found incredibly moving. It’s kind of anti aesthetic. There’s nothing to see. It’s just a hole in
the ground, right, but it’s kind of
Constable like landscape. These are just images from the– in Chicago, the kind of ground
zero for the case, right? [inaudible] images. The picture itself. I just brought these
in because I thought we might touch on the Dana
Schutz thing, which is alive and well here in Boston. All right, It’s Till and
then Demetrius Olivers– just the idea of how the
case was transmitted– and even when I was
a kid I was taught, this could happen to you even
though Till was far away– city, country. But still, it was
a cautionary tale. Randy Regier in the foreground. Andres Serrano in
the background. And so this, the idea of how do
you raise a race to visually? In part, the argument
is race being the difference between people. It’s not the province
of any particular group. But here we have it
literally being played out as epidermal signification. It’s an ugly phrase. Randy Regier
Impending Future Bus. This is completely–
this object’s completely made from scratch. Randy Regier– I
mean, a funny thing to have on one’s resume,
an antique toy restorer. This is based on a Ray
Bradbury story in which there’s a future an astronaut
goes to a planet inhabited by another race, and they
have to decide whether or not the white astronaut is
allowed on the planet. I’m pretty sure that’s the
summary of the story he told in terms of doing this piece. But he made each of the
elements of this from hand, and he used parts of
an old Woolworth’s that had gone out of business
the fluorescent light fixtures, an old Hoover vacuum cleaner,
then he cast all of the figures himself. And when I asked him
about the antique– his use of the old vacuum
cleaner and the parts from Woolworth’s– and
he said, yeah, man. I mean, when they go
to carbon date my shit, I just want them to, like,
think it’s a period piece. And I just thought it was great. I was thinking it’s
like future in which his work is carbon dated– talk about posterity. Hank Willis Thomas, again,
where he removed all the text from this Afro Sheen ad. So much brown. So here is– so this
is Paul D’Amato. This is him photographing going
up into one of the buildings as it was being torn down. This is the most
valuable at the time– it probably still is– some of the most valuable
real estate in the city. These towers are all
gone now obviously. Jerome [inaudible]
made these t-shirts memorializing the tearing
down of the projects. Those were the names of all
of the 27 federal housing projects from Chicago. I love the eeriness of these. They look like
obituary photographs. Virginia Nimarkoh. This is based on a
very famous painting by Gerhard Richter
called Betty, which the subject is Gerhard
Richter’s daughter who’s blonde. He’s got her in the
exact same position, and she’s looking back
into what turns out to be one of Gerhard Richter’s
gray, monochromatic paintings. And she’s wearing
a floral jacket, so Virginia restaged
the whole thing. This is a series of
portraits that Virginia got. She’s living in London. She’s Nigerian–
family moved to London. She went around to Trafalgar
Square, Leicester Square. I always call it
Trafalgar Dilly where all the squares are in London– and got different portrait
artists to do her likeness. I love this right
here where this– he just can’t handle the– Virginia, it’s, like, I
hope you got a discount. Shit. I mean, this whole
area is, like, what did he do, erase all this? It’s like Marcel Marceau. And the ones where the– I love the ones where– and Virginia’s
like, oh, the artist is Asian, who did this one. It’s just amazing. But just a whole– and this particular
piece being in dialogue with Virginia with Black
Romantics, the show that Thelma did. So here we go. David Lebenthal. These are 20 by 24
Polaroids that he did. He has a collection
of over 1,000 of things I call Negrobilia. And these kind of
figurines that are– when you get close up to them. I mean, photography kind
of imbues them with a life they otherwise don’t have,
but this one’s really scary– just this vaginal. You know, talk about
castration fear. Work a day Negro. Pope.L skin set drawings. In this he was great– a
series of primary color, a kind of Crayola from the
basically the Crayola crayon– the very simple boxset– these wooden shelves painted in
those colors around the gallery with a cone of flour that
just kind of crumbled. This is Deborah Grant. The late Terry Adkins, a
beautiful piece about WEVD boys going over in 1956, I
believe, to meet Mao. And here, Deborah
Grant’s collages. Sammy Davis Jr.,
Support of Nixon. His collages are great. They’re redeploying Bill
Trailer’s iconography. So here is just some of the
thinking in terms of, again, a social context for some of
the works in terms of how they were chosen, being in dialogue. And then the dialogue within
the show between pieces, in terms of giving the piece– giving the show a kind
of conceptual structure, an architecture
to a show in terms of themes that run throughout. Right here, with Terry
Adkins and a kind of species of conceptual art. These six tape players
all played a speech that WEVD boys gave called
Socialism in the Negro, but you couldn’t hear it. All you would see
are the red needles bouncing on the tape decks. So I’ll close out with
another set of reflections on the show of a biographical
order in terms of the shows– another avenue of thinking
about the show after the fact. A postscript, that’s
the word I want. The year was 1980. I was 14 years old, a freshman
at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. We were a class of
roughly 30 students. Mr. Williams, my ninth grade
social studies teacher, was normally gregarious
and outgoing, but I remember a day when he
was conspicuously disengaged. He was dummy to a chart,
whose subject, race, limited the powers of ventriloquism. He delivered his lesson plan
in utterly bloodless fashion. His lips moved somewhere
inside his beard. The monotone recitation
continued unabated despite rashes of giggling. Negroid, caucasoid,
mongoloid, these were the terms in which
it was impossible for us to see ourselves. Negro, Caucasian, and
Mongol were silly enough without the oid. Being either hopelessly
dated or too formal, they did not refer to anyone
going by black, white, or Oriental, as the designation
Asian had yet to carry favor. Polygenism, with its version
of a Black Adam and Eve, a white Adam and Eve, and
an Asian Adam and Eve, and a Native American Adam and
Eve had been roundly debunked. Yet, the now
commonly accepted out of Africa Theory, which
confirmed Darwin’s hypothesis of mono genesis, had not gained
traction in the Baltimore City public school curriculum. Any notion of a common
ancestral population was altogether eclipsed
by a diagram that began with the big three
and quickly devolved into some groupings,
which, based on the standard choices
for self-identification, belong to the catchall
category, other. We did not have questions. Which to say, we did not
openly question the material. Had we known of the
diagrams checkered past with a cast
of characters that includes the likes of Arthur
de Gobineau, a Frenchman of letters, who invented
the theory of an Aryan race, class would have been an
entirely different scenario– one of which Mr. Williams would
pray parents did not get wind. The lesson was
thoroughly confusing. It addressed human
diversity but not how it came to be
reflected geographically. Like a rabbit duck
drawing, the lesson could be either science
or history depending on how you looked at it. Since he spoke in terms of
archetypes rather than people, I took it as science. From three architects
came a host of subcategories that implied
migration and miscegenation. Calling them
archetypes, however, was supposed to
eclipse questions of their existence
in and over time, questions bound to
invoke history mythical, biblical, or otherwise. My image of a
Mongolian Adam and Eve was clearly beside the point. The chart, as is, was the point. Parsing and labeling variations
on the theme of humanity was an end in itself. It took a lot of work
for me to figure out that the chart was simply a
hollow system for managing difference, end of story. Discussing race in
purely formal terms is an exercise in alienation,
if ever there were one. The case in point being Mr.
William’s disengagement. Between race and
sex, I’m sure he would have opted for explaining
to us the latter fact of life. In essence, Mr.
Williams bore the onus of breaking the news to us
that race was not a natural but a historical construction,
a social construction, and as such, could be
entertained as a fiction. Mr. Williams, however, would
never have been so bold. He was a prisoner of context. In 1980, it would have
been hard to imagine a black teacher announcing
to a class of 14-year-olds, the majority of whom
were likewise black, that race was a fiction. To declare race a fiction,
would have been radical relative to the black political
and cultural self-consciousness that emerged in the
preceding two decades. While the rhetoric of black
nationalism may have been waning by 1980, you have to keep
in perspective that it was only four years before, in 1976,
that African-American week– as envisioned by Carter G.
Woodson 50 years earlier– was embraced at a national
level and expanded to encompass the month of February– or that one year
later, 1977, saw the airing of the
television miniseries Roots, an event
that many, myself included, considered epic. Or as a biographical exercise,
I could contrast Mr. Williams, my high school social
studies teacher, to Ms. Quarrels, my middle
school social studies teacher, a young soul
sister with dashikis, afro. Ms. Quarrles, I remember,
had to come up on stage and relieve me of my task
of lighting the seven candles of Kwanzaa, as I was
stricken with stage fright, and I don’t think my hands
have ever shaken like that. I let Ms. Quarrels down. She wanted to reinforce the
initiative shown by my parents in naming me Hamza. She wanted to back that
African sounding name up with the symbolic ritual, build
a solid foundation for self, belonging, community. According to Ms.
Quarrels, my lot was cast with all the
Shanequahs, Taiwan’s, and Kunyatas. But what started as a simple
exercise in pride and uplift quickly became a
10-year-old boys failure to do justice to the race. I believe that children
are the future. Teach them well and
let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty
they possess inside. Give them a sense of
pride to make it easier. But I digress. The point I want to make is
that Mr. William’s lesson had to compete with the
still potent sentiment of cultural self-determination. Obviously, say it
loud, I’m negroid, and I’m proud didn’t cut it. Explaining race in the manner
required of Mr. Williams was, in some sense,
the equivalent of teaching ornithology
to the birds. But that said, teaching
race with only the vaguest of implications that it
was a social construction was progressive then. Fraught with whatever
problems, this lesson plan, inconceivable under Jim
Crow era segregation, was developed in the aftermath
of the Civil Rights Movement. Moreover, the social
studies framework was part of a discourse. In biology, we were learning
about phenotype, genotype, and the nature and
transmission of genetic traits. In American history,
race was discussed as central to the nation’s
sociopolitical evolution toward a colorblind
society, an ideology on which we, as post-civil
rights children, were weaned. Our earliest
memories were formed well in the wake of
Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, which abruptly
ended the Civil Rights Movement. The subsequent riots
testified to the depth of frustration and anger
that hope had kept in check. Expectations stood
in stark contrast to reality, creating a chasm
between present and future, which only ideology can bridge. As the first generation of
post-civil rights children, we were weaned on the ideology
of colorblindness, which, in according to human beings equal
physical and mental capacity, dispelled notions of
biological determinism. Differences were
said to be skin deep, and therefore, no
differences at all. We laughed at the terms
negroid, caucasoid, and mongoloid in part because
they fell on colorblind ears. By ninth grade, however,
we understood ourselves as subjects that had been
racialized in a manner so thoroughly historically
determined as to function at a deeply unconscious level
that, in turn, double down as its own kind of essentialism. Race was a fact as self
evident as our being. A time when race
was not operative was beyond the powers
of an imagination, the center of which was the
black hole of middle passage. Race is a set of
phenotypical differences. We knew that. We also knew that what race
is cannot necessarily be dissociated from
what race means. This was apparent from
the outset of class, as the obvious parallel between
negroid and black was drawn. Although negroid referred
to a set of features making up the spectrum
of people known as black, there was a tacit
part of the equation. We did not know about the one
drop rule and hypodescent, but we knew that
being counted as black meant you could not
be counted as white. Black was not simply a set
of features in and of itself. Those features designated
you as belonging to one group, which, by
default, excluded you from belonged to another. The hierarchical relationships
between black and white made race a value system, one
that structured our reality and sense of self in such
fundamental fashion that asking a racialized
subject, what race is– independent of the social
order that gives race meaning, could rightfully seem absurd. Race was a fact as self-evident
as our very being– it’s meaning derived from the
value accorded to different. That value, in turn,
served as the basis of a fate and an identity over
which black subjects were not masters until relative. That value, in turn,
served as the basis of a fate and an identity over
which black subjects were not masters until
relatively recently. For the greater part of
history, the dominant conclusion was that blacks were
inferior whether deduced through bogus biological
science or deduced empirically by pointing to the ghetto, a
socially engineered destitution whose machinations are
historically rooted to the extent that their present
day effects are routinely mistaken for causes
in their own right. In 1980, at age 14, our
understanding of race was a highly heterogeneous
mix of ideas and ideologies of which school only– of which school, only a part– sorry. In 1980, at age 14, our
understanding of race was a highly heterogeneous
mix of ideas and ideologies of which school only played a
part albeit an important one. Self-determination was weighed
against embryonic but no less crucial nuggets of anti
essentialist thinking. Looking back at
that class in 1980, I realized how teachers and
students alike were neophytes. How do you teach race? And by the same token,
how does one learn race? Part of its teaching at
that time was, in fact, it’s unlearning. It was when I did the
show that I realized I’m the child of Mr.
William’s quandary insofar as I came to sympathize
with it wholeheartedly. Teaching as unlearning, a
paradox I took to be reflected in the title, Black
is, Black ain’t. But that was then,
and this is now. My colleague, Peter Eleey, said
it’s time for a sequel to Black is, Black ain’t. Instead of White
is, White ain’t, he suggested the more formal,
White is, White is not. From Michael Brown, to Freddie
Gray, to Laquan McDonald, to Colin Kaepernick, to
Donald Trump, to Dana Schutz, to Charlottesville,
back to Donald Trump, back to the NFL debacle. Peter’s right. It’s time to weigh in. I look to you in the question
and answer session for help. Thank you. Thank you, Hamza, for your
wonderful presentation. And kicking off
the conference, I’d now like to open
up the conversation to the audience for questions. And we have mike runners
stationed around Piper, so we can get started. How are you doing? My name is Eric Shaw. I’m the director of
planning for Washington DC. I’m sitting next to Toni
Griffin, who is a mentor and served in a
similar position. I sort of work for the man,
and I work for the institution, but I’m trying to
change the institution. Using design tools,
and socials tools, and my perception of
authority and power, how can I advance or break
down some of the notions that you were sharing today? I’m just thinking
of the expression, biting off more
than one can chew. And it’s kind of, I don’t
know, constructive retreat. There’s always the big
picture, the grand thing, sticking it to the man. I worked for the man for five
years in the city of Chicago, so I can sympathize– for the
Department of Cultural Affairs. But it’s kind of the
more focused I become around specific projects– just contributing to the
world any way that you can, I mean in a sense, with the
hope that those things will have effects. If going into
something, if I were to think, change,
social justice, the front line of activism. There is that, no doubt, and
there comes a time for it. But in doing these exhibitions
as a particular kind of space, being afforded the
space to think– and these are on
the fourth floor of a building on the campus
of the University of Chicago, so by the time you– it wasn’t a storefront. You didn’t just stumble into
the Renaissance society. You had to find us. By the time you got there you
knew where you were going. So it’s a particular
kind of space that structured my
thinking about the show– in being, in some sense,
afforded– and it’s a luxury, I’ll admit, to kind
of, in some sense, turn my back on the world
in order to think about and reflect upon
the issues that will go into the making
of the exhibition, but not with the idea of
changing a grand picture. I wanted the show to be the most
that it can be, the most robust that it could be in
terms of a dialogue, and I wanted it to
participate in dialogue with these other exhibitions. Now whether or not it would make
any kind of historical mark, I don’t know what kind of
impact that would have. But simply just kind
of holding my nose to the grindstone about
what would go down in this 3,200 square foot
space around that show was all I could give
despite having aspirations of the same order, wanting
to encourage discourse and dialogue. And the main thing
about the show is I did not want to fall into
the trap of aggressor victim. So when friends came
to see the show, they were just, like,
oh wow, the show is– like I said, no, I
want it to be fun. And they said, wow,
it’s a really good show. And it took me a
while to realize, oh, they already had it marked
as a particular kind of show. And it was really
nice in terms of– and to think about
having that discussion between black artists to get the
Till image and the white artist to do the Till image without
any kind of static at that time. So I was kind of taken off
guard by the whole Dana Schultz controversy. I mean, again, that was then. This is now. But just to– and I
was talking to Dan about doing that show
in Chicago and going through the history of
exhibitions at the Art Institute at the Tsavo
Museum, all around and seeing that there was no
show that had specifically addressed race. That was really
impetus to do it, so I feel as though it filled
an important gap at that level no matter how prescribed
or specialized this kind of activity is. But I didn’t do it with a
sense of the big picture as much as trying to channel
whatever energy would have gone into trying to make
that kind of impact into making the show be
all that it could be. And the fact that it survives– I’ve got a real rally round of– and it’s about follow
through, in a sense– in terms of doing the book about
the exhibition, which is nice. Catalogs live on. It was a real rally round
of talent in Chicago. Darby English, Huey Copelands,
Krista Thompson, Amy Mooney, Greg Foster. Greg Foster Rice. Trying to think who else. Kim Pender. They all wrote for the catalog. And at the time, we were all in
Chicago together at that time. And so I really think of it
as kind of a– even insofar as the book’s contribution,
a collection of voices– that it does stand. It’s there. It’s available. Be there for a while, right? So that’s really where the– and I hope that that
makes a difference to see and to have a
registry that, oh, wow– to look at this show– you know, the future me, as
a model, to say, oh, wow. That was done. That’s been done. What do we do now as
a jumping off point? So I hope that the show
registers in that way that addresses the question. And that’s fine. Was I talking to
somebody about shows– just being more
specialized about them, kind of getting up into them. I rewrote our mission
statement recently. And my board of directors, they
compared the mission statement that I just written to
the mission statement for the Hammer Museum,
which is fabulous. And the Hammer Museum, part
of their mission statement, basically sounded like the
tagline for the MacArthur Foundation– building a more
just sustainable and verdant world. And I thought I would
never write that into the– and they said, you need to
be more bold in the mission statement. And I said, well, being
bold is really relative. The fact that I claimed
that the work of art may be a means to understand
the present, which might be– like, that, to me,
was a very bold claim. That’s as far as
I’m willing to go. I’m not going to make a claim
about art and social justice. I’m barely getting
round to the fact that artwork may be
able to make sense out of this present moment. So it’s all relative. There’s somebody– I don’t
know where the microphone is. Hi. I’m speaking about curation,
and museums, and Dana Schutz, and that whole controversy. I’m wondering if you could just
share your reflections not only on the painting and
her contribution but also the Whitney Biennial. Talking about group
shows, that’s probably the group show of group shows– and just from a
curatorial standpoint, whether you thought the
inclusion of that painting or even having, more or less,
a room dedicated to artists of color talking about current
events and the way they did was responsible or
where you, as a curator, how you felt about that? Yeah. I disagreed with the protesters
and still do strongly. Dana Schultz is not
the enemy especially at this particular time. I feel like it’s
completely misguided. There are lots of other– as far as the dialogue,
Kerry James Marshall who was just up at the Met, right? I mean, lots of other places. And so I just felt like even if
you didn’t like the painting, even if you were to feel
one way or the other about it painting
a certain sense, I felt like that’s giving that
painting a lot of power when I feel like you could just move
on and discuss other things. Now with respect to what
the painting, Dana– Emmett Till belongs
to American history. Anybody can paint a
picture of Emmett Till. The misquoting by Hannah Black– I think Coco Fusco’s
essay is a great essay, and it kind of felt
like she did the work that, professionally, none
of us seemed to have time at that moment to do– where Hanna Black had
misquoted Mamie Till by saying, I wanted black people to
see what they did to my boy. And that’s not what she said. She said, I want the world to
see what they did to my boy. It’s a huge difference to me in
terms of a call for justice– in human rights, to blow that
shit up into a global level– not that kind of scope. And that’s as far
as I’m thinking. So in terms of what the Whitney
was on with the Whitney Biennal and how they handled it, and
the dialogue between that painting– which was done– I don’t know what the
date on the painting is. It wasn’t done for the show– well before the show. But it’s Henry Taylor’s– who was the cat who was
shot him in Minneapolis? Fernando Castille– I think so. –yeah– that his
painting was upstairs. So I felt like they did a great
job at a curatorial level, in terms of, balancing
things out or having a kind of dialogue– just even some– but also having
been there, 10 years earlier, with respect to addressing Till. You could talk about Sally
Mann, the photographer. She did a really beautiful
photograph of the site where Till’s body was pulled
out of the Tallahatchie. But at this point, Till as
the subject of folklore, in terms of representations
of the story of Emmett Till, it’s a discourse at this
point, and anybody can chime in whether it’s high
or low, in terms of representations of Till. So I don’t feel as
though it is the province of any particular group
in that work of art. I know that the show
was protested here, which I was, again, shocked by. And the painting wasn’t
even in the show. Well, hi. So, thank you for your
wonderful talk incidentally. Coming off of what you were
talking about with Dana Schultz, we, here at this
school and in the professions of design and planning,
are, in a way, every day appropriating
from others, a culture. We want to listen to people
as they use the city. But we’re trying to also,
in the best sense possible, to help them in reaching and
realizing their aspirations. But of course there is an
appropriation element to that. We’re bringing our expertise. And I wonder, as you
have tried to navigate with different groups and
thinking about difference and sameness, whether
you have advice to us, from your
particular world of art, for us, as designers
and planners, in trying to listen to others
but also do for others? I would say you almost
answered the question. I mean, in a way,
it’s like listening. That is the key right there. I feel like so much stuff
goes on back and forth that we realize that we aren’t
listening to one another. But I feel like it’s all– everything you just said– the will to want to do good
and to listen to others, it’s about exchange. Now, creating the conditions
for that to happen is the important part, and I
feel like those conditions are drying up– that things have
become quite brittle for any number of reasons. It’s kind of endless echo
chamber of very ill thought positions. So it’s almost like
you have to double down in terms of the amount of work
it takes to kind of dismantle arguments to get yourself– I found myself just
enraged to the point where I can’t hear
anything, I’m so pissed off, even if somebody
is, in fact, making sense. But you can dismantle arguments
and create the conditions to which somebody else
is able to hear you, and you are able to
hear somebody else. It’s the fundamental step. Hi, I’m Toni Griffin. I’m a professor of
practice here at the GSD. I’ve heard of you. Oh, I’ve heard of you. We’re delighted
to have you here. I’d love to just pour
over your postscript. There was so much in that
that I can see having endless discussion about. But kind of piggybacking on
that, my end question to you is are you hopeful? But let me back into that,
because you talked about art as a means of
understanding present– what I think is really
interesting and exciting. But I’m kind of wondering
if you also see it as a means to be perspective. You talked about race
as a value system. Do you have thoughts
on whether that value system can be reversed? I think that’s where the
question is– are you hopeful? So maybe your next show is
not White is, White is not, but maybe it’s Black
is, White ain’t? Yeah, a mix and match. How can we use
you, as a curator, examine your
hopefulness and actually examine the question
of whether the value system can be restructured? Oh, yeah. I completely believe
that the value system– it’s very easy to say
ain’t a damn thing changed. I gave the postscript. Specifically, it’s like,
after doing the show– the show, as
multifaceted as it was, was a way of sharing
my confusion. And I know that a
lot of you grew up hearing the same ridiculousness
with the chart and, you know, with just a particular period. And I can’t overlook
the kind of like– I want to say– and this is a sign of
hope– productively unstable discourse in terrain
of race over the course of my very brief life. So that writing was trying
to come to terms with that. It’s like, wait a minute. And do all stories
of race go back to child– what was
my first encounter? I knew someone on
the playground. And so I decided to instead
of run away from that, let me actually go there and
untangle a very seminal moment. Because that chart
I won’t forget. But feeling as though– and the key point of that– the discussion about,
oh, race as a– we’re comfortable with this
kind of language about it as a fiction, as a
social construct. And again, that was
impossible back then. So to be able to chart,
in some sense, registers of thinking as they’ve changed. And if I can find those moments
of change as they’ve occurred, again, in over the course
of my [inaudible]—- that’s a sign that,
again, things can change. You might have setbacks. But the basic stock
market, right? It is like, yeah, yeah, it was
a bad day, but the big picture! So to think about it that way– but as far as exhibitions go
and hope, one of the things I would want to
believe, exhibitions are occasions for contemplation,
for reflection, for dialogue. They enable dialogue. But the dialogue that they will
enable is only, in some sense, as dynamic as the show itself. So I believe in exhibitions
being kind of exuberant. I mean, they can be austere. They can have a particular
kind of architecture. That doesn’t mean necessarily
lots of things per se– but with that as the goal. And if I think of that as
inherently hopeful in some sense. I hoped that answers
the question. But I like the mix and match. But White is, White is not. I don’t know if you
could exactly convey. You could write it out, but
it doesn’t quite get the tone. You have to say it as
a title or contrast it. I mean, how would you note
it as a sequel to Black is, Black ain’t. But I’m reading right now– I don’t know if any of you– if you knew Richard Iton– Richard died of cancer
a little while ago. He wrote The Black Fantastic. And I just picked up his book. I only read snippets
of it when it came out. I guess it came maybe
’07, ’08, ’09 maybe. Richard was at Northwestern. But it’s about black
popular culture and politics in the post-civil rights era. And I’m really glad to pull it– I mean, now more
than ever in terms of the relationship between
art and politics, culture and politics–
that old chestnut, as it’s being played
out right now. And just in reading
that, that’s definitely given me the desire to want to
weigh in with another show that does take you to it. Because the thing about taking
monuments down, that’s huge. That’s huge. And that that gives
me hope, in a way. Even when Trump was saying, and
where are you going to stop? Next, they’re going
to start taking down Jefferson and Washington. And I was looking
at him like, I’m not going to say no, but uh. And the whole
point, it’s like, I got to be a geeky-ass, art
historian and to tell you it’s like, Gutzon Borglum, the
man that did Mount Rushmore, was a member of the KKK. They have a little
plaque next to the one that proclaims it
is whatever it is. It’s like, uh, we
could go for that. I wouldn’t mind that at all. But of course that’s
off the table. But I just wish somebody
would just go on CNN, and just bring that fact up, and
read Gutzon Borglum’s letters, and say, here, we have it. Species A, what do
we do with this? And it’s buried very far
in the Wikipedia page. I’m upset by that. But that’s that’s a huge– I think that’s a step in the
right direction, let’s say. All right, two more questions. Hi. Just because you
brought it up again, I’m wondering what you think
about sequels in general or here, specifically,
because there is the debate about
whether the Fox News idea of fair and balanced
isn’t really fair and balanced? If there really is two sides
of every story, do we have– so we have the Black
is, Black ain’t. Do we need the White
is, White is not? Or could the sequel be something
that’s building off of it or something that’s
completely separate? Absolutely. It’s the last point. That’s totally– I’m sharing
my mind with you guys like as an open book kind of
thing, as crazy as it might be, in a way. But by and large,
by the time things get around to being realized
they take on a different form. So at their core they might be– even though I’m talking
about it as a sequel, right– let that be a secret– the show, itself, might have
even as it’s like [inaudible] enthralled with Iton’s
book, The Black Fantastic– by the time I get around to
it, it will have an entirely different form not
just because of– I think what you’re
saying is like, do you need to always be
locked into this binary? In which case, you’re not
really going anywhere. You’re just on like a treadmill
over, and over, and over, right? So at a certain point, it’s
like, you just have to let go. You know what? I’m just going to
abandon in this. In one sense, I’m
going to abandon it, so that it may live in a much
more constructive fashion– in another form, and I don’t
know what that will be, but I want to do the show,
so that I can find out. That’s how it is–
which is the impetus to do the show in this way. But it was definitely
drift away, so that it won’t be that thing. And other things– like
seeing the last Documenta, it’s really depressing to me. I saw it in Kassel. It was like a particularly
European stance about this kind
of finger wagging, this postcolonial position. And it was just
like, no, no, no. I mean, the finger wagging
is, like, Jesus Christ. It’s really, really
old fashioned. Just let that go. Instead of declaring that
the wrongness of this– just go get more artists of
color and let’s just move on. Just show more stuff
and go into that space. Let’s make that space. I mean, part of being captured
by a certain [inaudible] course is to realize like
you have agency to move away and make
the world different, so do a different show. Thank you for presentation. My name is Marius. I’m a recent graduate
of Syracuse University. I’m here with my colleagues
from Seoul Design in Atlanta. And my question is how do you
approach curating spaces that are possibly less institutional
than the Renaissance Society, that may be more accessible
to the people who you address in a show like Black
is, Black ain’t? I’m an institutional creature. So my thinking is, not just
by default like at this point, willfully so, about the museum
space in a very removed one– in a gallery setting as
opposed to just other more unconventional spaces,
which can take the form– magazine, publishing,
those kinds of things out in the world. I’m completely– even
though I haven’t ventured into that terrain in any
sustained or substantive way, I believe in it wholeheartedly. Now, for five years,
I was a curator working for the city for
the public art program, so I had a series of library of
stuff, which were more or less I could treat more or less like
museum spaces, in some sense. I mean, a very welcoming
sibling to the museum is the library in that regard. But I really took so
much joy in the fact that just a general public was
wandering through this space with this really beautiful– Elizabeth Catlin and the Kerry
James Marshall piece around. And so I wholeheartedly
believe in public art even through a tier of– I don’t know what I’m going
to say– mediocre projects. I’m just going to
put that out there. It’s a value judgment. Because when it hits and
when it’s good, it’s good. I mean, there are ways to
realize projects that you cannot realize otherwise. So the aspirational value
of creating art in public should definitely remain a
kind of true north, in a sense. But in terms of
unconventional spaces, I’m all for projects
realized, high, low, and especially when it
comes to the public sphere. Like, doing Black
is, Black ain’t was really funny to take
place in a gallery. As far as the fine arts, I feel
like music, popular culture, mass media, that’s where
so much of the dialogue in the discourse takes
place like in the moment, up to the minute, word
is on the street. So I think of the feel
that I’m engaged in, or at least how
I think about it, as relatively stodgy in that
regard with its limitations, but to try to be constructive
with those limitations. So, yeah. Well, thank you.

One thought on “Black In Design: Opening Keynote, Hamza Walker

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *