As 2015 wound down Kameelah Janan Rasheed found herself the subject of headlines: heading to Turkey for the holiday, she was questioned by customs agents at the Newark airport, then allowed to board her flight—only to later be removed from the Lufthansa plane by an FBI agent and questioned. She was accused of having a one-way ticket and of planning to travel to Syria (neither accusation was true). And customs officials asked her, “Why are you flying? Where are you going in Istanbul? How can you afford to go on holiday? How much was the ticket price?” The only passenger—of 200 aboard the plane—to be removed, she attributes the action to her religion: “I was the only visibly Muslim person.” A week later, candidate Donald Trump (now president-elect) called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
We’ve invited Rasheed—an artist, writer, and educator—to share her perspective on the year since. It was a year in which her text-based installations were featured in shows from Four Freedoms at Jack Shainman Gallery to Working Forces at the Soap Factory; she began a Smack Mellon residency; wrote for The Guardian; and continued her work as a high school social studies curriculum developer. Here, as part of 2016: The Year According to , she shares her most notable events, ideas, and happenings of the past twelve months.
A New Museum
Without a doubt, the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture was an exciting moment in 2016 for the making, preservation, and dissemination of a wider spectrum of black histories. Worth also exploring are Mabel O. Wilson’s new book Begin with the Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture as well as her older text, Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums.
Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter
On September 1, I had the privilege of collaborating with many other Black women artists at New Museum for Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter at the New Museum, a response to the continued inhumane institutionalized violence against Black lives. It was a public event that included a series of workshops, performances, digital works, participatory exchanges, displays, and printed matter. In early July, Simone Leigh—the then artist-in-residence at the New Museum who mounted the beautiful show, The Waiting Room—reached out to Black women artists to build an action in response to the routinized violence against Black lives. Weeks later, what was born was Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matters, a collective of artists who gathered for one day for both joyous outburst and mourning. For updates and information on BWA for BLM, please follow the group on Twitter (#BWAforBLM) and Instagram (@BWAforBLM).
Arthur Jafa at Gavin Brown Enterprises
Arthur Jafa’s rigorous attention to detail has sustained an enduring body of work that experiments with form and articulates the full complexity of Black lives. In November, Gavin Brown Enterprises debuted his large single-channel video installation, Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death. This seven minute, thirty second video installation carefully sequences found footage that shifts between expressions of Black joy, outbursts of ecstasy, and brutalization of Black bodies. The video installation encourages repeated viewings to unpack the intricate layering of images and sound. It will be on view until January 27, 2017.
I’ve followed Sondra Perry’s work for over a year because of her astute analysis of blackness, technology, and constructions of historical narratives. I was excited that her work would find its home at The Kitchen this season. For her solo show, Resident Evil, the New Jersey-born artist debuted a series of video installations that explore computer and videogame software as a lens for understanding the experiences of Black people in America. Resident Evil explores police brutality with attention not only to the moments of Black death, but how these deaths and responses to these killings are narrated.
Notes from Octavia
During my first year of college, I met Octavia Butler! Currently, the Octavia E. Butler Papers are housed at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. This year as part of “Radio Imagination,” a yearlong celebration organized by Clockshop, journalist Lynell George shared fragments of Octavia Butler’s Huntington Library Archive on Instagram. My favorite piece of ephemera is a 1988 handwritten note on inside cover of one of commonplace books that describes Butler’s affirmation and goals: “My books will be read by millions of people! So be it! See to it!” I read this note every morning.
Throughout the year, I revisited Pharoah Sanders’s The Creator Has a Master Plan as a hopeful reminder and morning ritual.
4’9″ Simone Biles became the world’s best gymnast!
The Limitations of White Feminism
There were countless think pieces after the traumatizing election of Donald Trump. However, none of these pieces channeled my anxieties, frustrations, and hopes better than LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant’s “An Open Letter To White Liberal Feminists,” which continues the conversation about the limitations of white feminism and the need to consider the fear amongst Black people before Trump. She writes:
I am disappointed that it has taken you this long to actually get what black women—and namely black feminists and womanists—have been trying to help you see and feel for a very long time. […] I am delighted that you have received the potential awakening of a lifetime, and that now you might actually get what so many of us have been describing all along. Welcome to that deep perpetual angst. Embrace it, and allow it to motivate you to a deeper form of action.
Readings on Blackness
This year, I read many great pieces about blackness, the body, technologies of survival, and legibility such as Aria Dean’s, Poor Meme Rich Meme and Harmony Holiday’s Reparations begin in the body: A look at why the first and most crucial poetic gesture for a Black poet in the West is a knowledge and mastery of her body. I am looking forward to reading Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake as well as revisiting Fred Moten’s Fugitivity is immanent to the thing but is manifest transversally.
As a kid, I spent much of my time in the publishing center where I wrote and illustrated over a dozen books before I finished second grade. When I wasn’t at the publishing center, I was in the public library or organizing my home library according to my own Dewey Decimal System. As such, it is no surprise that I am excited by two literary projects founded by Black women based in Brooklyn. The Free Black Women’s Library, founded in 2015 by Olaronke Akinmowo, is a radical mobile library and interactive biblio installation that features a collection of 450 books written by Black women. At the pop-ups throughout Brooklyn, visitors can read books authored by Black women, donate/trade books authored by Black women, and engage in rich conversations with other visitors about narratives that are not traditionally centered in the western literary canon. Another project is the Well-Read Black Girl. Founded in 2015 by Glory Edim to celebrate and promote the phenomenal Black women on our bookshelves, Well-Read Black Girl hosts public readings as well as monthly, Brooklyn-based book clubs.