Nov 24, 2020—Mar 30, 2021
Throughout the twentieth century, Harlem has been regarded as a beacon of African-American history and culture. Sites such as the Apollo Theater, Abyssinian Baptist Church, and Malcolm X Corner, at 125th Street and Seventh Avenue, serve as popular postcard images that represent significant places and moments in this community.
Today, Harlem continues to evolve as a center of history and culture. Every day, changes are witnessed by its residents and experienced by tourists and visitors from all over the world. Harlem Postcards, an ongoing project, invites contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds to reflect on Harlem as a site of cultural activity, political vitality, and creative production. Representing intimate and dynamic perspectives of Harlem, the images reflect each artist’s oeuvre with an idiosyncratic snapshot taken in, or representative of, this historic locale.
This season, featured artists include María Berrío, Ruben Natal-San Miguel, Robert Pruitt, and Summer Wheat. Harlem Postcards Winter 2020—21 is organized by Amarie Gipson, Curatorial Assistant, Permanent Collection.
Citi. Proud Sponsor of Harlem Postcards. Proud Sponsor of Progress.
Textual messaging has a very strong and powerful presence for viewers. It makes us reflect, reclaim our presence, and develop a sense of community. It reminds us of who we are, and reminds us to claim respect. Over the past several decades, the Apollo Theater marquee has become a digital communicator of feelings, loss, celebration, and milestones of Black culture in America. My vision as an artist is to document the pride and resilience of Black culture in Harlem, which welcomed me with open arms eighteen years ago, as a gay Hispanic man and a human being. Harlem is home now, and with the love and support of Harlemites, it started and has continued my career as a photographer. Black & Proud is an image captured during Black History Month in February 2020, just a month before the COVID-19 pandemic. My job is to disseminate this message to those who cannot witness it in person. I think Harlem Postcards is a perfect way to do this, and I feel extremely grateful that I was selected to participate in it.
The title was inspired by the Pablo Neruda poem below
TO WASH A CHILD
by Pablo Neruda
Only the most ancient love on earth
will wash and comb the statue of the children,
straighten the feet and knees.
The water rises, the soap slithers,
and the pure body comes up to breathe
the air of flowers and motherhood.
Oh, the sharp watchfulness,
the sweet deception,
the lukewarm struggle!
Now the hair is a tangled
pelt crisscrossed by charcoal,
by sawdust and oil,
soot, wiring, crabs,
until love, in its patience,
sets up buckets and sponges,
combs and towels,
and, out of scrubbing and combing, amber,
primal scrupulousness, jasmines,
has emerged the child, newer still,
running from the mother's arms
to clamber again on its cyclone,
go looking for mud, oil, urine, and ink,
hurt itself, roll about on the stones.
Thurs, newly washed, the child springs into life,
for later, it will have time for nothing more
than keeping clean, but with the life lacking.
As a native Texan and recent New York transplant, I am amazed at the adoption of the nineteenth of June as a widely recognized holiday. I grew up celebrating Juneteenth every year, as it has always been the assumed date for family reunion gatherings. In many ways for us, it usurped July 4 as the central summer celebration of “Freedom,” via cookouts and catfish. We popped firecrackers, drank soda waters, and tried everybody’s fried chicken. The story of emancipation in Texas—as a proclamation, delayed for two years, on courthouse and church steps in Galveston—always felt, for me, tinged with a sliver of sadness and even embarrassment. We gave two whole additional years of free labor. No wonder, then, that these national celebrations feel somewhat awkward to me. In my own family, there were never any specific ceremonies of remembrance around the anniversary of the end of slavery, but that history has always floated as an ever-present specter in the background of our joy. This recent evolution of Juneteenth both provides a platform for reengaging with that original historical importance and also introduces a new opportunity of the commodification of a Black tradition. These mixed feelings were present as I attended a Juneteenth street festival on 116th with my wife, and saw this collage of text and pattern and capitalism. I had to double back to capture it.
I gravitate toward looking at how shape, color, and pattern work together, so it is no surprise that, while walking around Harlem, my gaze was drawn to a table of fans boasting a bold and bright composition of geometric shapes—functional artwork. In the basket, the fans blended together and created a compilation of circles and semicircles, patchwork patterns, and colors. Textiles have always been a key source of inspiration in my artwork. I am intrigued by their presence in both decorative and fine arts. My fascination with textiles has been the driving force behind my exploration of material. In my work, I try to bring the textural essences of various textiles into my paintings. The image I captured here led me to consider the history of textiles and the many forms of the relationship between it and abstract art. On these fans, one can see a mix of patterns and colors, not unlike the geometric abstractions of artists such as Peter Halley, Jonathan Lasker, and Frank Stella, or the innovative and improvisational quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Each of these investigations of form is equally rigorous, yet the origin of their practices, use of materials, and motives around abstraction are different.