Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn, presented by Creative Time and Weeksville Heritage Center, launched on September 20 and runs for four weeks in the neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy.
Curated by Nato Thompson and Rashida Bumbray, with works by artists Xenobia Bailey, Simone Leigh, Otabenga Jones & Associates and Bradford Young, the exhibit offers site-specific workshops, videos, artist talks, clinics and print and broadcast media installations– an artistic reflection on the social infrastructures that stimulated 150 years of local Black self-determination.
“As we started talking about race and space in the way of what are the urgent conversations right now, as far as our changing landscape and contested landscape, the concept of sustainable intervention was one that emerged,” said Bumbray. “That meant not just having a pop art experience, but projects with strong community partners that can work with these artist [to] enhance and bolster what everyone is doing in supporting the history of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights.”
Xenobia Bailey, an American artist best known for her eclectic crochet designs, was commissioned to spearhead “Century 21: Bed-Stuy Rhapsody in Design: A Reconstruction Urban Remix in the Aesthetic of Funk.” For three months, Bailey collaborated with Boys & Girls High School students to design and produce “up-cycled” furniture to outfit one of Weeksville Heritage Center’s historic Hunterfly Road homes.
“In 2013 when Creative Time approached me with this project, it was like, they were in my head, because I actually started this project in 1999,” said Bailey. “For it to be put in my hands, it was almost scary. And to work with students at BGHS was exactly what I would have fought for.”
The students learned about the history of the Weeksville settlement as the first independent settlement of free blacks in New York City. The students then created a fictional scenario for an imaginary couple moving into 21st Century Brooklyn today.
“They were art design students, an international couple that came to New York,” explained Bailey of the make-believe couple. “They barely had enough money for rent, but none for furnishing. So they started getting recycled materials from off the street, cardboard boxes, newspapers, so they designed their home. And since they were design students, they were able to get things that really supported their needs.”
There were a total of 60 students from across three different classes, ages 14-17, working on the project. Each student designed three objects. What was included in the exhibit was a chair, a table, a bookshelf, a lamp, a blanket and a few other smaller items that helped add to the character of the house.
“Of course we couldn’t incorporate all of the creative things they designed, but I was amazed at their level of sophistication,” said Bailey. “They [didn’t] have to be taught; they just needed to be shown how to use their tools. I just let them go. And they all had this very beautiful, very sophisticated contemporary African-American aesthetic.
“This project opened up something for me,” said Bailey. “I want these young people to realize that they have an aesthetic that people will come to them for. I wanted to teach the students to embrace their uniqueness for their own, cultural equity.”
Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn, runs through October 12. All four installations are open Fridays through Sunday, 12:00pm – 6:00pm. For more information on the exhibit, visit Creative Time’s website.
To read about the “jazz” portion of the exhibit through “OJ Radio,” installation, click here. To read about the “medicine” portion of the exhibit, realized through “The Free People’s Medical Clinic,” click here.