St. Ann’s Warehouse and Supremacy Project (Julian Alexander and Khadijat Oseni), just in time for Black History Month, have installed a new outdoor public art exhibit that goes to the heart of white supremacy, tackling “the systemic oppression and violence that BIPOC communities are fighting to end up art.”
The exhibition consists of two complementary installations. The first of these, We the People, features images of transcendent black beauty by Lagos-based photographer Adeolu Osibodu and haikus by Cyrus Aaron, Mahogany L. Browne and Justin El (who each contributed to Michael Boyd‘s Lost Ones. Supremacy Project’s Culture Found exhibition last year). Conservative Khadijat Oseni says, “We The People is revisiting the US Constitution’s black exclusion with the Three-Fifths Compromise. Through words and images evoking ancestral memory, black humanity is centered and presented as strong, vulnerable, whole. This juxtaposition triggers a meditation on American myth.”
Artist Julian Alexander anchors this sea of diasporic voices with a text-only artwork: “ALWAYS SUMMER 5/5 a ____.”, serving as a meditative pause and update on the iconic “I AM A MAN” signage which has since become synonymous with the struggle for social justice. Alexander’s homage and style of innovation resides in a setting similar to that of the genesis of the original slogan and sign that first gained widespread popularity during the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968, the last strike led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. days before his assassination.
The original sign language comes from Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. The full quote reads: “I am an invisible man. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, of fibers and liquids – and one might even say that I possess a spirit. I am invisible, understand, just because people refuse to look at me.”
Julian Alexander’s new signage picks up where essential workers of the 1960s civil rights movement left off by recontextualizing and leaving open space at the end for the active participation of viewers from all marginalized groups – regardless of culture, gender and sexuality, to aid in the collective reversion of the American promise.
The other installation in the exhibition is a new iteration of the Supremacy series Project Supremacy: Who Protects Me from You? While the first Who protects me from you? installation centered on the executive branch of the US government (represented as Mount Rushmore) and the judicial branch (such as riot police), the new work, in the arcades of St. Ann’s Warehouse on Dock Street, forms its lens on the legislative branch, portraying January 6, 2021 as one of countless days in a long history of white supremacist violence.
Events on Capitol Hill are explosively captured by Mel D. Cole and Reuters photographer Leah Millis, and contextualized by Julian Alexander. A sharp redaction from Alexander — to a quote from Republican Senator Adam Kinzinger — underscores the idea that despite the horror of the insurrection, it’s just one of countless “darkest days in American history.” “for non-whites.
Mel D. Cole explained to BNC News, when he showed up near the White House to document Trump’s rally – without anticipating the traumatic events that were to unfold – he found himself “in fear of [his] life” as a black photographer at the heart of this crowd. He captured the events with chilling clarity and frightening closeness.
The Supremacy Project exhibit at St. Ann’s Warehouse is part of the theatre’s Urban Canvas series, through which St. Ann’s, since the murder of George Floyd, has ceded its exterior walls to large-scale public art projects in urgent conversation with the moment.
St. Ann’s Warehouse is located at 45 Water St. in DUMBO, Brooklyn.
Photo credit: Jose Cabaco