Exhibit review: Post-speculation/The Way Black Machine

The name of this Jacob Lawrence Gallery show is about as seemingly intangible as the very cultural definitions it so abruptly forces onlookers to face.

Via The Daily

The idea for such a showcase began when the gallery decided to dedicate every February, Black History Month, to African diaspora. The decision was in part to honor Black History Month and in part to honor the gallery’s namesake, Jacob Lawrence himself (an artist who focused on the struggle for American freedom and justice, primarily civil rights).

Post-speculation/The Way Black Machine are put on by HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN?, or the YAMS Collective.

All three of the rooms viewers walk through are painted completely in black, and most of the doorways have black strings such that you cannot see through the doorway.

The first room has multiple, abstract, black pools and puddles of varying substances. The viewer is left wondering what it all means. Perhaps the answers are in the next room.

Upon entering the second room, the viewer is engulfed in blackness. There is nothing but the soul-sucking light of images flashing across multiple mini-television screens. The overwhelming noise, the flashing: It’s never ending.

Police brutality flashes by while the screen next to it flashes an image of a lynching. Simultaneously, protesters’ yells, screams, and inaudible news-guest explanations are reverberating off of the unidentifiable, unseen walls. It is utterly captivating. And terrifying.

This part is the YAMS Collective’s The Way Black Machine. It is an Internet archive pivoting on black embodiment, addressing “contemporary conditions such as police brutality, American-funded international violence, and the ways that memes and hashtags collapse and make legible such threats to personhood,” as stated in press materials.

The third room has a recorded voice over narrative, albeit intertwined with the madness of the previous room. It’s much smaller. A continuous flurry of African dancing is projected onto two walls.

Granted, everyone can and will perceive this show differently, approaching it from different backgrounds. This is my interpretation as a white person, who can never equate or identify with what it truly means to be African-American.

For onlookers from positions of privilege who hadn’t thought about the racial barriers that exist today — the marginalization, the cultural definitions, and the subsequent displacement of what it means to be black — they will after this show. They are actually confronted with it.

The show transcends racial boundaries, putting its onlookers in the place of those it references. Nonblack viewers temporarily identify with and see the horror that Africans and African-Americans face through the media. But can one truly identify? What happens the day after you see the show?

Time to find out.

The Jacob Lawrence Gallery is located in the first floor’s north corner of the Arts building, open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Post-speculation/The Way Black Machine is around until Feb 28. And it’s free.

The verdict: For something so simple, viewers leave with boggled minds as well as saddened and terrified hearts.

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