Exhibition - James Hannaham: Jim Crow Hell No

Saturday, Feb 20, 2021 at 12:00pm

Open Source Gallery
306 17th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215

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Open Source Gallery presents James Hannaham’s Jim Crow Hell No, a faux-historical exhibition of bygone mid-20th Century signage from America’s racist, sexist, and homophobic present.

In September of 2018, author and visual artist James Hannaham visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. This visit, of course, took place in the midst of the Trump Administration; debacles that week included Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in the Kavanaugh hearings, a clampdown on immigration, the murders of sex workers by a Border Patrol agent, the continued rise of white nationalism, the ongoing border separation policy, and a white kid arrested in Louisiana for putting nooses around Black kids’ necks to get photo ops.

The National Museum features a number of displays of the familiar signage enforcing racial segregation from the Jim Crow era, old “Whites Only” signs, black-and-white photographs of white/colored drinking fountains, and the like. While visiting, Hannaham found himself wishing that someone could have, in that era, signified on segregationist wayfinding with biting, ironic responses. But back then, doing so would almost certainly have proven fatal. Simultaneously, it occurred to him that the messages on the signs at the National Museum, while antique, still lingered in a frighteningly high number of American minds—they seemed almost indelible, in fact—even in supposedly liberal areas. New York City schools, for example, were recently revealed to be the most segregated in the nation. The Trump administration, for its part, constantly ridiculed and enabled relentless violence and threats against almost everyone: Black, brown, Native, Asian and queer people, women—not even veterans escaped denigration. Hannaham concluded that creating a faux-archival exhibit of satirical resistance to the bigoted signs of the past would remain depressingly relevant to current events, but still exemplify the resistance inherent in humor and demonstrate yet again that thumbing one’s nose at a morally bankrupt authority by inhabiting its methodology and making its absurdity apparent by subverting its message could still be effective. When Audre Lorde says, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” Hannaham asks, “What about fire? Is fire one of the master’s tools? Hope not, ‘cause here goes nothin’!”

James Hannaham has exhibited text-based visual art at Kimberly-Klark Gallery, 490 Atlantic, The Center for Emerging Visual Artists, Asphodel, and (a one-day pop up at) James Cohan. This past summer, his construction Everything Is Fine, Everything Is Fine, Everything Is Normal, Everything Is Normal, garnered Best in Show at Biblio Spectaculum at Main Street Arts. He is the author of the novels Delicious Foods, a New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book and winner of the PEN/Faulkner and Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards, and God Says No, an American Library Association honor book. In the fall of 2021, Soft Skull Press will publish Pilot Impostor, a series of his multigenre responses to poems by Fernando Pessoa. He was a co-founder of the performance group Elevator Repair Service and has written cultural criticism, opinion pieces, celebrity profiles, and other wordy things for the Village Voice, 4Columns, and other publications. He teaches in the Department of Writing at the Pratt Institute.

Exhibition Date: February 18, 2021 - April 1, 2021 

Visitors will be admitted in small groups to adhere to social distancing and safety guidelines. 

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