To a point...
Curated by Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
September 8 - September 25, 2016
CP Projects Space, 132 West 21st Street, 10th floor, New York, NY 11011
Opening Reception: September 8, 2016, 7:30pm
Artists include Chloe Bass, Sivan Dayan, Robert Gober, E. Jane, Tiona McClodden, Kayode Ojo, and Marvin Touré.
Simple is as simple does. African-American poet and novelist Langston Hughes created Jesse B. Semple (Simple for short) in the early 1940s for a weekly column in the Chicago Defender. Simple—as black Harlem’s “everyman” character—was far from simple in his dealings. With prickly humor, he tackled everything from the violent origins of bebop to the failings of the census to chart black life accurately. All these musings were registered in a skit-like, bluesy prose that ached with pain and pleasure.
“Coffee Break”—a pithy story from the Simple series—found Simple less effusive, at his most terse. His white boss boasted integration was in full swing; Simple thought otherwise, reasoning that there was a point at which de facto segregation was seemingly reconciled, but ideas around blackness as fixed and flawed remained. But before reason could get anywhere, the coffee break was cut short.
The exhibition To a point… revisits this abstract point that Simple wrestled with. “Coffee Break” came out in the mid-1960s, when integration was all the talk, again, but teetering on implosion. Reconstruction had failed; the Gilded Age, for many, was far from golden; and the cynicism of the Civil Rights era—the second Reconstruction for some—was beginning to percolate. Unsure of itself, integration efforts of the ‘60s would cave in on itself. Separatist tendencies would grow in stature; folks wanted to be free and fluid, existing on their own terms, against the politics of inclusion and within them. Today, we find ourselves wedged in the same abyss, drowning in a labyrinth of competing positions, our health—mental and otherwise—on the rocks. In moments like this, Alice Walker’s womanist tenet, “not a separatist, except periodically, for health” comes to mind.
So did it ever come? It could be freedom. It could be equality. It could be integration. It, unfortunately, still lingers today—this talk of (re)integration. Simple had remarked at how “everything is connected up” in his life. Similarly, integration operates across various points, resembling a constellation. That we continue to come back to integration time and again suggests this point is beyond simply reconciling black and white, man and woman, and whatever other divides we can conjure. Instead, we can think of this point as porous, pliable in its provocation.
But we all have a threshold, a breaking point, that moment when the coffee break is over. Oftentimes, we go back for another cup, subtly sipping, testing the threshold once again, hoping we don’t get burned. Success adds another point, as does a scalded tongue. More coffee breaks will come to an abrupt end. More points will follow, pointing to points earlier and those to come.
What is integration today? What do we want, if we want it at all? What does integration look like? And how does this debate inform the spaces of cultural production we exist in and seek to further fashion? The politics of inclusion that permeates To a point… also manifests itself across the works of Chloë Bass, Sivan Dayan, Robert Gober, Ei Jane, Tiona McClodden, Kayode Ojo and Marvin Touré. All the artists meditate on this point alluded to in Hughes's powerful vignette, interrogating its complex simplicity, as well as abstract and separatist tendencies, to arrive at a critical rethinking of what is sorely missing from efforts to integrate: empathy.
Image credit: Kayode Ojo, The Drill Is Closely Supervised, 2012, archival pigment print, photo courtesy of artist
Image courtesy of MACP
Image courtesy of MACP