Speech/Acts at ICA Philly 1 Favorite 

In “Speech/Acts,” a group exhibition organized by Meg Onli at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, Kameelah Janan Rasheed and Tiona Nekkia McClodden stood out as artists who take up voices, histories, and experiences that can help audiences move forward and endure in the future. For her installation A Supple Perimeter (the second activation), 2017, Rasheed painted black two walls and hung them with prints of her texts reflecting on blackness and subjectivity. These texts were organized in clusters of varying sizes; broken up with enjambments and stanzas, the words repeat and distort. The texts were temporary, and Rasheed reconfigured them over the course of the show, to convey her understanding of black subjectivity as locked into language but maneuvering against its constraints. McClodden’s video Essex + Audre (2015) and installation The Brad Johnson Tape, X – On Subjugation (2017) express nested histories of identity. The former work includes a scene from Marlon Riggs’s film Tongues Untied (1989) in which poet Essex Hemphill recites a section of Audre Lorde’s poem “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger.” The clip resonates with the seemingly contradictory emotions of rage and desire at play in The Brad Johnson Tape, X – On Subjugation, which uses a suspension bondage frame as an apparatus for projecting a video depicting scenes of S&M play that McClodden choreographed and recorded after a “rage poem” by the eponymous writer, a lover of Hemphill.
Works such as Rasheed’s and McClodden’s may not appear at first to operate as acts of protest. But by engaging art they shift the conversation of social justice into a space of affective and analytical conviviality. Using visual and emotive means that aren’t necessarily available to mass protest and direct action, they advocate for people and communities whose lives have been historically obfuscated and make the resonance of these historical stakes palpable in the present. Sable Elyse Smith’s “Ordinary Violence,” on view through February 18, 2018 at the Queens Museum of Art, expresses the lived effects of the carceral system in the United States, where, according to reports from the Pew Research Center, black Americans are more than five times likely to be incarcerated than whites. In Smith’s collages and videos, images of family members with their incarcerated kin show the psychological violence enacted on visitors trying to express love. As these works reveal, abuses and humiliations are built into acts of care that are tightly choreographed by the state.

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