This past Sunday the 2017 Whitney Houston Biennial: Greatest Love of All opened at chashama at XOCO 325 to a packed crowd of NYC art lovers and creatives of all kinds. This year, I had the honor of being invited to submit work and was accepted into the second edition of this unique group show which features only women artists, a move I can only attribute as a response to the gender inequality that is so rampant in more “established” art exhibitions.
No surprise this underdog biennial had already gotten TV and press coverage before it opened, so the line to get in was a block long. As I made my way into the exhibition space with my family, our eyes/hearts/minds became full of the glorious spectacle that is this all-female group show. The exhibition space itself is small but the floor-to-ceiling, salon-style hanging is democratic and accommodates humans of all sizes. My son and other children I saw there were thrilled by the work at their eye level.
Part of the artist submission process included having to write about a pioneering female that inspired your work. This requirement was easy for me given my current obsession with the black, PreRaphaelite model Fanny Eaton who I wrote about for the show. So not only is the show a visual celebration, but it also honors female legends big and small like Ms. Houston and 125 other women who have marked the world.
For me the biennial was a great way to discover new artists and below I highlighted the photographs, collages and lens-based images that were some of my favorites. All are available for purchase on the 2017 Whitney Houston Biennial website. The WHB is on view until March 29th so be sure check the website for other readings, panels, performances and other events.
Featured (Top) Image: Suzanne Wright – “8 Shuttles”
Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures.
Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog:
Conversation with Marco Scozzaro on Digital Deli
Five Visual Motifs in the Photographs of Ren Hang
Photography and the Black Panther Party
The Black Female Self in Landscape
In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes
Forthcoming Photobooks by African American and Black African Photographers
New Image Library Specializes in Race and Cultural Diversity
Threads can be long and winding, in fact it can be an effort to keep them straight. They tie things together and they also get into perplexing entanglements. Conversations are threads sometimes, where surprising connections are possible. Instead of writing about art, I feel the more urgent question is how to live an examined life as an artist? It’s an old question but hopefully not a redundant one. In the course of two months, I will invite artists to talk about what nurtures them as people. What sort of communities do they seek? How do they support art making? What are their current concerns and challenges? If you’d like to engage in a conversation and wrestle with these questions, please do write to me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thread 1: Qiana Mestrich
Qiana Mestrich is a photo-based visual artist and writer from Brooklyn, NY. Founder of the blog Dodge & Burn: Diversity in Photography History, her Namesake Series is on view at the RUSH Arts/Corridor Gallery through May 17, 2014. She graduated from the ICP-Bard’s MFA program in 2013.
Group of Five Mugshots from The Namesake Series (2013)
“Untitled” from The Mist in Mystic series (2012)
“Tear” from the Trust Your Struggle series (2010)
History of the World (2012), Altered book
Newtown Creek: A Photographic Survey of New York?s Industrial Waterway by Anthony Hamboussi is a journey around the perimeters of the Newtown Creek in New York City, an industrial canal which separates north Brooklyn from the western perimeters of Queens, flowing westward towards the East River. It is a self-propelled project, which began with Hamboussi’s knowledge of the area, beginning in a childhood in nearby Maspeth, Queens. A seemingly casual project became an obsessive chronicle of several years. The images are presented chronologically which suits the essentially private nature of the enterprise, that of Hamboussi’s journey into a polluted heart of darkness within New York City limits. Thoroughly researched & plotted, Hamboussi’s itinerary also incorporated intuitive aspects, which can be seen in the fitful un-mappings of the area, giving it more the fitful mutability of dreams, in its starts & stops & divergences, while it inventories a large area of mixed industries.
I have been struck by how many New Yorkers do not know where the Newtown Creek is, although it is a ubiquity to those living in Greenpoint, Bushwick, Long Island City, Maspeth. The community with the most unlikely name in such a gray mess is Blissville, which straddles a cemetery & a Best Western Motel, on the Queens side. The creek stinks. It is poisonous. Its most notable landmark is the sewage treatment plant through which flows 3/4 of New York City’s waste (& which now features a remarkably innovative park within its facilities). Good friend of mine once lived in Greenpoint, at the end of Manhattan Ave., on the other side of the Pulaski Bridge from the sewage treatment plant, which when the wind blew in a certain manner, mixing with the scents of a nearby scented candle factory, the area would be imbued with odors of intense sweetness & shit, even for those with a high gag threshold. There are now 2 centuries of industry layering its shores, & within it the boundaries have blurred between public & private, as streets mysteriously disappear into the gated confines of corporations, as maps mutate with no reason other than as the residue of decades of corporate aggression homesteading on these filthy borders. Seemingly deserted, it is actually active & dynamic as an economic nerve, sinking below the horizon of freeways, warehouses & factories.
Perhaps the most acute irony I could discover about the area is that in the 18th century, before its industrialization, the Newtown Creek gave its name to the first cultivated apple in the US: the Newtown Pippin. Grassy meadows sloping down to sweet waters, a peaceable kingdom of fish & fowl, a New World . . .
At this point we can only take someone’s else’s word on this. Hamboussi’s photos show a diverse area of industry & infrastructure. While the frontage on the East River is now being developed as a corridor of high-rise apartments, the filthy core of the creek is still a crazy-quilt cross-section of industries & abject histories.
What will happen to the parking lot for the Fink Means Good Bread trucks? What pollutants were left behind by Phelps Dodge, before its site was taken over for the Fresh Direct warehouse? How can National Grid justify legally its prohibition of photography at its perimeter, outside its fenced borders?
Hamboussi looks at the Creek with the eyes of both an insider & an outsider. Given the lugubrious tally of industry & its aftermath at hand, Hamboussi’s photography has a contrasting lightness of touch. While I know the work he has put into it, the images flow with their attention to detail, to the ability of Hamboussi to guide us through a landscape which would be so easy to ignore in its harshness, yet which reveals so much about the world we live in.