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after the deluge

so, today i've decided to be an amateur art reviewer. yesterday, i went to the met to check out the next-to-last day of kara walker's after the deluge exhibition. her stated goal was to explore the horror of hurricane katrina using works from the museum's permanent collection and some of her own work.

upon walking into the exhibit space, i ran into some italian tourists talking - in italian - about hurricane katrina. if i'd ever had any doubts about the incredible scale of the tragedy of katrina, they were laid to rest when i heard these people from another country talking about katrina. granted, i couldn't understand much of what they said other than "katrina," but the fact that they were even talking about...the gulf coast may have been destroyed, but it was not a localized tragedy.

so i took my moleskine and a pen with me to take notes on the exhibition because i was trying to be inspired to write something. i saw that many ms. walker's own pieces in the exhibition were untitled. for some reason, this struck me as strangely powerful...and confident. a couple of years ago, maybe when i was sophomore in college, i had gone to a sunday poetry get-together at abiodun oyeowle's place, and when i told him that the poem i had brought to share with the group was untitled. he responded that my poem is like my child, and a parent that loves her/his child obviously must give her/his child a name. there is much truth to that, but when i saw the strength of ms. walker's work, and that she was confident enough in that strength to believe that the viewer would get the point even without a driving title...

i hoped to get to the place where the words of my poetry would speak for themselves, even without a title. throughout the exhibition, she had placed series of text cards - typewritten 3x5 cards - from her 2001 collection "american primitives." the very first one on display read:

Perhaps Now is the time to
away with
pictures of
trying to

i thought about this little poem for an extremely long time. i felt i had a grasp of what the first 10 lines were saying - the point of this exhibition was not to, say, celebrate human resiliency in the face of disaster. and in light of katrina, some people might have been tempted to mount such a display as a sort of morale boost for the country. after all, that is a big part of the reason why mardi gras went on as before in new orleans.

but the last 4 lines - before/trying to/destroy/them. destroy what? what does them refer to? we are already, presumably, in the act of doing away with these things which engage the pleasure centers, so what are we destroying. i'm still not sure i know. perhaps the them is something that is outside of the language of the poem. i'm still working on figuring it out.

as for the success in evoking a sense of horror - there were definitely pieces on display that evoked that sense of horror more than others. aside from works that displayed the destructive quality of water, there were some that i felt were placed there not because they were horrific, but because they were examples of 19th century cut paper silhouettes, the medium in which ms. walker does a lot of work. then again, there was also an illustrated copy of john warner barber's a history of the amistad captives, and a series of silhouettes by ms. walker depicting the middle passage (a face on a shore waving goodbye and smiling, a person being hurled across a body of water, arriving on a distant shore...) and then i took the entire exhibit to be about the ghost of slavery which haunts america to this day, kinda like the opposite of the bible book of revelation when it talks about the sea giving up its dead...

because it almost seemed, from seeing this exhibition, that the sea sent the hurricane to bring it more bodies.

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About me

  • I'm call me aja
  • From nyc
  • 20something, black, woman, reader, writer, about to be a student again. i think i'd like to be heard (or read). child/grandchild of immigrant folk. yearning to travel. desirous of wisdom. a little bit ordinary, but working at being less so.
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