Review | In Plain Sight/Site
Curated by Niama Safia Sandy
Artspace, 50 Orange Street, New Haven, CT
THROUGH MARCH 2, 2019
Adama Delphine Fawundu, In the Face of History (2017-18). Dimensions variable, screenprint on paper. From the exhibition, In Plain Sight/Site. Photographer: Jessica Smolinksi.
Months ago, New YorkCity-based anthropologist and curator Niama Safia Sandy saw a Metro-North train car called “The Nutmegger.” Nutmeg is native to present-day Indonesia, halfway around the world from New England, but during the 17th century, ships departed often from the region. In 1637, the first known ship of this nature—tellingly named “Desire”  —took Native Americans to the West Indies to be sold as slaves. The ship then returned to Salem, Massachusetts with newly enslaved West Africans. Too easily people, especially those with privilege, insist that the events of the past have no impact on their present lives. Yet the evidence of our nation’s shameful history is everywhere, even in a state’s seemingly quaint sobriquet.
Uncovering these narratives is the subject of the current exhibition at Artspace, New Haven. Curated by Sandy, In Plain Sight/Site includes ten artists from around the country whose works implicate New Englanders in the longstanding oppression of non-white people. Sandy’s essay, “Ripple Effects,” that accompanies the exhibition opens boldly with an admission of stolen land: “I want to acknowledge that Artspace sits on the traditional territory of the Quinnipiac people.” From there, she recounts how the ambitions of several wealthy nations converged to redistribute power to their benefit. The works in the show trace how this imbalance radiates to the present. “We have to actively bear witness to prevent this history from repeating,” explained Sandy during the press preview last week.
This history comes into focus in Adama Delphine Fawundu’s room-sized installation, In the Face of History, a collection of newspaper articles, musical scores, maps, painting reproductions, and other ephemera from the 17th century to the late-20th century. Two large walls are covered with reproductions of these artifacts. On each copy, Fawundu has screen-printed a silhouette of the back of her head, placing herself as a literal witness to this dizzying panorama. The expansive size of Fawundu’s installation stresses the totality of an acknowledged narrative. As much as we know this history, white people like myself often fail to recognize the scope.