McCabe “Black Excellence in the Book Arts” Exhibit

When you walk into McCabe, you’re probably thinking about all the work you’ve got to do. Maybe you’re dreading a midterm that’s coming up or a ten-page paper that’s due at midnight. But what you’re probably not thinking of are the exhibits all throughout the library. 

One such exhibit is the “Black Excellence in the Book Arts” installation. Situated on the second and third floors of McCabe, the past month’s showcase highlights the written works of Black artists as part of the 50th anniversary of the BCC. The exhibit displays poetry, plays, librettos, lithographs, and much more, including an array of uniquely structured books of art. 

Each work of art or prose centers around a different part of Black culture or history. Take, for example, “Hagar’s abode” by Carletta Carrington Wilson. Though the work opens and closes like a book, it is better described as a collage of colors and textures amalgamated into a house-like structure. The piece has a front and a back side, both of which boast a beautiful array of patterned fabrics and painted shapes. The work, part of a greater series titled “knot my name haint my house”, explores “‘the text of textiles’ in all of its manifestations as related to the transatlantic trade in slaves,” according to Wilson. “Each structure is named for an individual who was enslaved during the 19th century.”

Another equally intriguing piece, titled “Under the Knife” and written by Krista Franklin, explores themes of “inheritance and generational traumas that blossom in the body” (Candor Arts). Franklin’s work, which is part-book and part-collage, includes references to history and to her personal experience, making for a unique combination of fact and dialogue. The pages open in the exhibit show, on one side, a text, partially redacted and crossed out; on the other side, more text, this time combined with images and color blocks. The redacted portions of the page create a more fragmented and raw text, while the scribbles portray an emotional reaction to the text. On the other side a red color block draws the attention of the viewer, highlighting the urgency of what is written there.

In a separate glass table lay another piece, which immediately caught my attention with its bold strokes of black paint. “With Certain Ambiguity,” a book of images created by Autumn Thomas, delves into the idea of perspective and perception. Thomas says, “[she] created imagery that was hidden as if being viewed through a blindfold … [which] represents classism, racism, bias, and naivety.” The images she creates are black and white, purposely blurry and ambiguous. There are no clean lines, but rather broad strokes of paint. Her generous use of negative space and splattered paint evokes feelings of emptiness and invisibility. 

One final piece that stood out was “Voyage(r): Tourist Map to Japan,” which analyzed what happens when two cultures meet. Described as a “diary-like artist’s book” by the author, Clarissa Sligh, the piece is a combination of photos and prose. According to Sligh, the book is a contemplation of “her relationship to Japanese culture, both as a first-time visitor and as an African American woman.” Small in size and handwritten, the book looks and feels like a personal journal, which we, the readers, are lucky to be privy to.  

All the books are both thought-provoking and visually beautiful, spanning a wide array of ideas. The books provide a closer look into the experiences and perspectives of these exceptional artists. So, next time you’re in McCabe scrambling to finish your paper or problem set, take a quick study break and pop up to the second floor. You’re sure to leave feeling reflective and inspired.

Courtesy of Anatole Shukla
Courtesy of Anatole Shukla
Courtesy of Anatole Shukla
Courtesy of Anatole Shukla

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