“Direct Downward Cut at the Head; Overhand Knife Thrust”; “and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped”; “To them God has appeared as a Negro”; “syntactical slips and breaks” — these are a sample of the bits of text affixed to the walls in Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s On Refusal, one of three concurrent exhibitions at A.I.R. Gallery.
As the phrases might suggest, On Refusal is a difficult show. The gallery space is starkly divided between the chromatic camps of black and white. This is a hint about the kind of world we are entering: it’s circumscribed by the Christian faith, whose system is essentially Manichaean, a dualistic cosmology of a fallen, evil world of matter doomed until a transcendent spiritual truth rescues it. But the system doesn’t work. The attempts Christianity has made to corral this artist’s feelings, thinking, and responses within the confines of a sin-and-redemption narrative are cracking and splintering all over the gallery walls.
In my interdisciplinary and research intensive practice, I consider ideas of selective legibility and opaqueness as a political strategy; the tension between narrative contingencies and narrative resolutions; as well as black traditions of covert literacies and self-publishing.
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