Kunstverein Hannover will feature Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s (b. 1985, Palo Alto, California, lives and works in New York City) first institutional solo exhibition in Germany in early 2022. The artist’s work deals primarily with language and text. As an important voice of a younger generation of Black* American artists, her work addresses the relevance of current political debates and events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. It also goes beyond that to engage with historical perspectives on Black citizens in U.S. society.
Rasheed’s practice—and the subject of her critique as captured in complex text works—focuses on social and political upheavals in U.S. society that directly affect her as a practicing Black Muslim woman. Her approach to language is based on the artistic notion of using text as a work material. The artist extracts slogans or parts of sentences from public advertising spaces, for example, and transfers them to paper, vinyl, or plastic banners in the form of elongated, glossy typography. Rasheed views text, her medium, as more than just a carrier of linguistic information—she also uses what she considers a highly aesthetic aspect of the printed word. Some of her works are made with Xerox printers and placed in the exhibition space in the manner of political pamphlets.
The comprehensive presentation of text-based works planned for the Kunstverein shows the fundamental curiosity with which Rasheed explores the materiality of language as a medium of communication. Her works shift meaning with the smallest of syntactical changes, with punctuation in »Black Black. Black! Black?« (2013), for example. Other pieces including »Are We There Yet? (and other questions of proximity, destination, and relative comfort)« (2017) urge us to reconsider our existence and the world, but also indirectly allude to the overall state of society.
Rasheed’s 2014 series »How to Suffer Politely (And Other Etiquette)« tackles the cynical accusation, widespread in U.S. society, that Black people did adequately respond to violence directed against them in the past, consequently making their current discrimination, unequal treatment and resulting social unrest possible in the first place. Rasheed presented the series as large-scale posters in public spaces at bus stops or storefronts; other cryptic comments on them included »Lower the Pitch of Your Suffering« or »Tell your Struggle with Triumphant Humor.« Drawing on scholarly texts from historical archives, which the artist alters by enlarging, reducing, or rearranging them, Rasheed reveals new contexts that direct viewers’ attention to supposedly unambiguous points of view. She artfully stitches, among other things, political slogans, mathematical equations, and pithy quotations from the Koran together in ways that cast doubt on particularly Western (white) »certainties« and interpretations of historical events.
Kameelah Janan Rasheed will specifically tailor her installations to the exhibition space of the Kunstverein Hannover and work with photography, photo-printing, and film. The show will also extend to the public space, where the artist will show works in selected city areas including the Ihme-Zentrum and Hanover’s Steintor neighborhood. As education is an essential part of Rasheed’s artistic practice, the artist and Kunstverein Hannnover’s education director will jointly develop a proposal that involves using the library to interact with visitors (adults, young people and children). In the past, for example, the artist has created a deck of cards with unusual instructions for library use: such as »Find a blue book. Read the last page and write down a word you’d like to use in a future conversation.« The artist then collected the words that visitors wrote down on index cards and used them as raw material for further education programs.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an artist’s book addressing societal perceptions of Black people in the artistic format described. The Kunstverein will also prepare a lecture program and symposium in collaboration with the »American Studies« master’s program at the Leibniz University of Hannover. It will also cooperate with Kommunales Kino Hannover on series of film screenings related to the Black Lives Matter movement and work with the ISD (Initiative Schwarze Deutsche) on a discursive framework program focusing on Black people living in Germany.
Kameelah Janan Rasheed has exhibited at the Brooklyn Public Library (2019), Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver (2019), the New Museum, New York City (2019), and the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, New York City (2015), among others. The artist is represented by NOME Gallery, Berlin.
*Black in the context of people is capitalized in the following to make clear that it is a constructed assignation pattern and not a real »characteristic« that can be traced to the color of a person’s skin. Thus Blackness in this context does not mean being classified as belonging to an actual or assumed »ethnic group«, but is rather associated with the shared experience of racism or of being perceived in a certain way. (adapted from »Glossary of Discrimination-Sensitive Language« Amnesty International)