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Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America at the New Museum

"Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America," 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni.

Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America

New Museum

February 17 through June 6, 2021

Curated by Okwui Enwezor

By DARYL KING, March 2021

Goldman Sachs recently made history after refusing to support the Initial Public Offerings of companies, which lack diversity across their boardrooms. It proves that today is completely different from living in New York or Brooklyn than it was ten years. Certainly, our lives will be different in the future as more diverse companies are allowed to serve the public rather than a continuation of systemic racist tendencies across the business market. It leaves many of us questioning whether Black identification would have reached the current state it is today, without all of the violence. The New Museum's new exhibition, Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America, lasts until the summer and features the work of 37 artists. Curator Okwui Enwezor first saw that the categories used to define Black people left them identifiable in the media. Now the media features a broader narrative shaped by Black people who convey that Black people's lives are similar but not exactly alike.  

"Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America," 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni. 

Before he passed away in 2019, Enwezor wanted to cite this current moment as a National Emergency faced with “a politically orchestrated (demonstration of) White Grievance."  It was only recently that even Mexico acknowledged the existence of Black people in the country. African descendants were either ignored or marginalized, whereas those related to Indigenous and European people were prominent. The intergenerational exhibition features “video, painting, sculpture, installation, photography, sound, and performance made in the last decade, along with several key historical works and a series of new commissions created in response to the concept of the exhibition.” It traverses the civil rights movement of the 1960s to the recent spurts of police violence from the 1990s to today. Before the Black Lives Matter initiative, BLM, there was the Harlem Renaissance and then the Black Arts Movement. These cultural movements were all prompted by the plague of racial violence, which causes Black communities to experience excessive woe and harm. 

Enwezor was first working on a series of public talks for the Alain LeRoy Locke Lectures at Harvard University. The talks eventually became the current exhibition at the New Museum. Abstraction becomes a tool for crafting the strategy against social disruption and death.  The tradition of creating artwork against institutional violence, and as a form of protest, has evolved in the digital age. The highest percentage of African Americans live on the Eastern side of the country, where their daily lives are vastly different from the stereotypes assigned by biases and prejudice. After his passing, a team of curatorial advisors, Naomi Beckwith, Massimiliano Gioni, Glenn Ligon, and Mark Nash, all close affiliates of Enwezor, continued the project, with the new goal of also paying tribute to the curator’s legacy. Nonetheless, regardless of ethnicity or nation, America appears to have taken a step back from the progress made to eliminate racial segregation. 

"Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America," 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni. 

Some of the artists were chosen for their unique ability to navigate the Black community's voyage after slavery, memories, and the present manifestation of Contemporary Black culture if such a thing does indeed exist. Progress has been matched by extremism from White Radicals. Enwezor wanted to capture the urgency of the moment, with original plans to launch the exhibition closer to the American presidential election. Local neighborhoods are still battlegrounds, and hatred manifests itself in the form of a siege on the United States’ capital.  Mass incarceration and excessive policing are two of the formats used to separate people of color. The exhibition brings this political issue to a new forefront, extending a vision that describes how these issues invade Black people's lives in America across many generations.  When viewers walk up to the Museum at night, they can see the words “blues, blood, and bruise.”  

The words are part of Glenn Ligon’s public work titled A Small Band (2015). These are the words uttered by Daniel Hamm, a Black teenager, who, along with this friend Wallace Baker, was arrested and beaten by police officers in 1964. The installation will be present for the rest of 2021, in collaboration with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Enewzor’s goal was to prove that Black people are living in a state of emergency, which many politicians refuse to acknowledge: “The crystallization of black grief in the face of a politically orchestrated white grievance represents the fulcrum of this exhibition. The exhibition is devoted to examining modes of representation in different media where artists have addressed the concept of mourning, commemoration, and loss as a direct response to the national emergency of black grief. With the media’s normalization of white nationalism, the last two years have made clear that there is a new urgency to assess the role that artists, through works of art, have played to illuminate the searing contours of the American body politic.” WM


Daryl Rashaan King

Daryl Rashaan King currently works as a Teaching Artist with Leap NYC; a Chef de Partie at CUT by Wolfgang Puck, The Four Seasons Tribeca; and the Vice President of the Asian American Film Lab. He is the founder/ principal of kokuoroi, a multidisciplinary creative studio. The studio focuses on problems derived from urban living, viewed through the perspective of King, a Brooklyn native. A graduate of Columbia University, who originally specialized in painting, some of King’s goals include obtaining both an M. Arch and an Expert Diploma in Culinary Arts. He would also like to pursue various art and design programs and to live abroad. King has already earned certificates from Parsons in Streetwear; completed part of the Sustainable Design Foundation at Pratt Institute; and volunteered in Cusco, Peru at the construction site of a new Lower School. His work has greatly evolved since taking an Information Architecture course focused on Future Cities, hosted by the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich. A former varsity wrestler, King has hopes of learning and practicing new martial arts. When he isn’t working, enjoying music, or playing video games, King’s focus is on the future.

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