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‘Citing Black Geographies’ presents the work of fifteen artists whose practices examine “black space” – a term describing the topographies, zones, scenes, and structures that portend black cultural experience.

Dawoud Bey   Untitled #4 (Leaves and Porch), 2017  Gelatin silver photograph on mount  48 × 59 inches (121.9 × 149.9 cm)
Dawoud Bey, Untitled #4 (Leaves and Porch), 2017. Gelatin silver photograph on mount, 121.9 x 149.9cm. Courtesy of the artist & GRAY

Curated by Romi Crawford, a cultural theorist and professor of visual and critical studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, ‘Citing Black Geographies’ parses dichotomous and elusive notions of black space. The group exhibition includes works by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Dawoud Bey, McArthur Binion, the Black Arts Movement School Modality, Nick Cave, Coco Fusco, Theaster Gates, Rashid Johnson, Tony Lewis, the Staples Jr. Singers, Tavares Strachan, Jan Tichy, Jina Valentine, Carrie Mae Weems, and Amanda Williams.

Beckoning recognition and awareness of “signal black landscapes” – a term Crawford uses to describe spaces that evoke black cultural experience – the exhibition is conceived as an open-ended index of historical, speculative, and emergent instantiations of black space.

“Space, some will say, is not intrinsically racially specific,” says Crawford. “And yet there are some locations and territories that read obviously and overtly as ‘black space’ – zones that have some connectivity to black peoples’ lives, history, and culture. In this sense, black space is cultivated or fostered regularly and variously.”

With works ranging from painting, print, installation, and drawing to photography, sound, video, film, and performance, the exhibition examines periodic iterations of black space. Dawoud Bey’s photographic series Night Coming Tenderly, Black, for example, speaks to historical notions of black space, capturing seemingly innocuous sites obscured under the veil of night. Devoid of discernible architectural elements, the depicted spaces invoke the narrative of the Underground Railroad and the existence of freedom spaces that emerged following laborious journeys to the North.

Examining black space as a contemporary ideal, Rashid Johnson adopts an aspirational perspective in Black & Blue, a video in which he interprets the exclusive Long Island vacation destination of the Hamptons as black space and envisions the purported “good life” that has been rigorously gate-kept from black and brown communities. Using his family as the protagonists of the film, Johnson tessellates domestic scenes of affluence commonly associated with whiteness onto non-white figures.

Amanda Williams’s contribution to the exhibition, Tulip Project, questions and reinterprets redlining, one of the systematic physical constructs that has historically demarcated black space. Williams will plant red tulips along parcels of land on Chicago’s South Side to explore how social and political traditions create and transmit forms of belonging. Utilising the ubiquitous flower, Williams redesignates spatial value in an act of remembrance of redlining policies that delineate black urban areas.

Additionally, ‘Citing Black Geographies’ affirms black roots in the American South with a contemporary live recording by the Staples Jr. Singers, “When Do We Get Paid (In Full),” coproduced by Crawford and the record label, Luaka Bop.

Crawford positions ‘Citing Black Geographies’ as an intentionally open-ended project. Reaffirming notions of black space while also challenging them, the exhibition externalises black space as a concept as fictitious as it is aspirational, suggesting that it is not as clearly defined and fixed as it seems; that it is as liberatory as it is confining; and that it is sometimes not a physical space at all, but rather a pervasive and looming atmosphere.

The exhibition will be on view from the 9th of September until the 27th of October 2022 at GRAY Chigaco and at GRAY New York from the 17th of November until the 23rd of December 2022. For more information, please visit GRAY.

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