Negative Energy Absorbers, Sound Sculptures, Framed Staircases, and Huts Invade Harlem

Four new sculptures explore blackness in Harlem's parks thanks to a new museum initiative called "inHarlem."

For the first time in its nearly 50-year history, The Studio Museum in Harlem is staging four public art exhibitions in parks across the community. The commissioned sculptural installations are by artists Kevin Beasley, Simone Leigh, Kori Newkirk, and Rudy Shepherd, and are respectively on view in Morningside Park, Marcus Garvey Park, St. Nicholas Park and Jackie Robinson Park. As the museum prepares to close for a planned expansion, the public works are part of a museum-wide initiative called inHarlem that will take Studio Museum’s curatorial practice and educational programming into libraries, public spaces, storefronts, and out into the streets.

The inHarlem project was born from the fact that the museum was moving out of its building and still wanted to actively serve it’s community. Curator Amanda Hunt tells The Creators Project, “A lot of people are intimidated by museum spaces and it’s hard for a lot of museums to communicate, ‘hey you should come inside, this space is actually for you.'”

“The most genuine way to do that is to literally bring the museum to the public,” says Hunt. She placed sculptures in “untapped areas” of Harlem’s parks that could draw attention to local histories of the community. The sculptures are subtle messages to remind the public that Harlem was established as a cultural mecca of black America and will continue to be so.

Kevin Beasley, Who’s Afraid to Listen to Red, Black and Green? (detail), 2016. Morningside Park, New York, NY, August 25, 2016–July 25, 2017. Photo: Liz Gwinn

A particularly elaborate imba yokubikira, or kitchen house, stands locked up while its owners live in diaspora, Simone Leigh’s three-part installation, is situated in the northeast corner of Marcus Garvey Park near where the museum was founded in 1968. Leigh’s three small black huts recall the architecture that commonly dots the Shona-speaking rural landscape of Zimbabwe. By situating the door-less kitchen huts or imba yokubikira in Harlem, the Jamaican American artist emphasizes the global vastness of the African Diaspora while simultaneously speaking about the radical gentrification of the neighborhood that continues to displace longtime black residents.

Rudy Shepherd, Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber (installation view), 2016. Jackie Robinson Park, New York, NY, August 25, 2016–July 25, 2017. Photo: Liz Gwinn

The other three sculptures are concerned with community empowerment. Ruby Shepherd’s Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber at Jackie Robinson Park seeks to symbolically take in the community’s negative energy. For Shepherd, the wood, metal, and concrete sculpture is a reminder for local visitors to seek positivity in the face of racial bias.

Kevin Beasley, Who’s Afraid to Listen to Red, Black and Green? (detail), 2016. Morningside Park, New York, NY, August 25, 2016–July 25, 2017. Photo: Liz Gwinn

Kevin Beasley’s installation at Morningside Park, Who’s Afraid to Listen to Red, Black and Green?, features three three “acoustic mirrors," sound sculptures that allow visitors to hear themselves as they stand in front of the works. Each of Beasley’s resin covered instruments evoke the tri-colored African American flag and can be employed as a microphone or stage meant to amplify the voices of the community.

Kori Newkirk’s Sentra frames a staircase in St. Nicholas Park with large curtain-like plastic fringes with the idea that marginalized communities deserve to live in vibrant vitalized neighborhoods with flair.  

Kori Newkirk, Sentra (installation view), 2016. St. Nicholas Park, New York, NY, August 25, 2016–July 25, 2017. Photo: Alani Bass

“inHarlem is saying that this is for you; art is for everyone,” says Hunt. As a curator, she was greatly influenced and inspired by working with artist Lorraine O’Grady on Art Is, a three-decade long street performance project shown recently at the Museum. “Art is about trying to bring it to the largest public possible, to make it clear that this is something you can experience, enjoy, hate, react to, and live with.” She adds, “The varieties of works in the parks only speak to the possibilities of art.”

inHarlem continues through the summer of 2017. For more information, click here.


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