"If you build it" celebrates Harlem Art and Community
03 jul 2014 by Jessica Lynne
There is no cool like Harlem cool and perhaps, no place cooler than the famed West Harlem neighborhood, Sugar Hill. On the heels of the opening of architect David Adjaye’s newly constructed Sugar Hill Building, the neighborhood is abuzz with an infectious energy.
To celebrate the opening and the distinct creative legacy of Sugar Hill, Broadway Housing Communities has partnered with New York City art organization No Longer Empty to produce a site specific exhibition entitled If You Build It.
An investigation of the ways in which notions of home and community are conceived, built and sustained, If You Build It is a two floor, multi- room experience inside Adjaye’s building. 22 artists - local, emerging, and international - including Hank Willis Thomas, Shani Peters, William Villalongo and Bayete Ross Smith, present art that responds to the cultural, political, and historical legacy of Sugar Hill while also invoking wider reflections on space and place.
Such is evident in the work of emerging artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed who, with her installation No Instruction for Assembly, Activation IV, uses an apartment to reimagine the place she lived with her family until becoming homeless at age 12. Flush with family photographs, books, and old records, Rasheed’s installation remarkably explores the relationship between memory, archives and physicality. Nari Ward’s performance installation Sugar Hill Smiles simultaneously confronts the problematic nature of entities that capitalize on the Harlem brand without making an actual investment Harlem while also offering a colorful, small scale solution to this phenomenon. For his piece, Ward collected smiles from Sugar Hill residents in cans that have now been labeled and sealed and will sell the smile cans throughout the neighborhood for $10 with all profits benefiting Broadway Housing Communities.
The exhibition also features the work of several curatorial collaborators, such as Dominican York Proyecto GRAFICA, Art Connection and Art in Flux. Collaborators Felicia Gordon and Imani Razat of The Sugar Hill Culture Club use their exhibition New York, Naturally, to explore the relationship between the city’s natural habitat and its inhabitants. Razat’s digital mixed media images and Gordon’s photography, pay homage to iconic NYC inhabitants, the insects of the city and fashion designer Wendell Headley respectively.
“Sugar Hill Culture Club is a loosely knit group of creatives, primarily but not exclusively based in Harlem. So obviously we were ecstatic when No Longer Empty came to the neighborhood and expressed interest in our work. The building site is five blocks away from my home and contains some of the most relevant work I've seen in years in a context that's appealing to us for many reasons. The idea that our work is briefly inhabiting a space where future tenants of Sugar Hill will live is pretty powerful. A win all around, really a no-brainer,” culture club founder Felicia Gordon tells me via email.
Indeed, this is a show that perfectly and explicitly embodies the spirit of Sugar Hill’s iconic nature.
Responding via email, Razat has no doubts about the impact of the show. “As far as the exhibition at large, I overheard someone saying, ‘The tremendous amount of talent in this building is overwhelming.’ Well, that talent and creativity has always been here. I grew up in Harlem so I know. The exhibition is a celebration, really, of how much our community has to offer. It's a privilege to be a part of that.”
If You Build It runs until August 10, 2014. It is open to the public Thursdays and Fridays from 3 pm - 7pm and Saturdays and Sundays 12 pm - 6 pm.
Wendell Headley - New York Naturally, Felicia Gordon, image courtesy of Sugar Hill Culture Club
Installation Shot, New York Naturally, image courtesy of Sugar Hill Culture Club
art:i:curate contributor Jessica Lynne is a curator and writer based in Brooklyn.