CAMH presents Acknowledgement: The Historic Polyrhythm of Being(s), a newly commissioned public art installation by Houston-based artist Nathaniel Donnett, as part of the Museum’s new Beyond CAMH initiative series.
The community-engaging work is located upon more than 120 feet of construction fencing surrounding the Museum’s front lawn during its ongoing capital campaign renovations. Initiated through a backpack exchange with the youth of Houston’s Third, Fourth, and Fifth Wards, the text- and object-based artwork acknowledges and reflects the importance of history, education, family, and visibility in these communities and Black American social life. The work will remain on view—day and night—through October 2020.
Acknowledgement: The Historic Polyrhythm of Being(s) sets an important precedent by including youth as an integral part of the public art process through direct collaboration with community organizations, including S.H.A.P.E. Community Center, Change Happens!, Lindsay Gary, Jack Yates High School, and Kashmere Gardens Elementary. For Donnett, this project engages the youth’s social imagination by uplifting everyday objects as material for the artwork, and the exchange as a gesture of human kindness. The exchange seeks to inspire youth around the value of education, through the gift of a new backpack and by highlighting the inner resources and strength of Houston’s Black community. The multi-faceted nature of this artwork emphasizes the power of direct action and social exchange.
The artwork comprises a 120-foot pre-existing fence, upon which is printed imagined words and phrases common to the aforementioned neighborhoods, and a series of backpacks mounted on the fence. Some of the backpacks contain photographs taken by the artist and objects collected from these three neighborhoods, which reference Nkisi power figures of the Congo and the notion of being both present and not present at the same time. At night, the backpacks are illuminated with lights that continuously pulse in Morse code, the phrase “A Love Supreme” from the John Coltrane song “Acknowledgement,” an excerpt from a James Baldwin’s essay “The Uses of the Blues,” and a verse from the song “Mad” by singer-songwriter Solange.
While CAMH remains closed for construction and COVID-19 precautions, Donnett’s work provides a source of community-based art in keeping with the Museum’s mission to present extraordinary, thought-provoking arts programming and exhibitions to educate and inspire audiences nationally and internationally.