Bodies Of Knowledge

By New Orleans Museum of Art

Bodies of Knowledge brings together eleven international contemporary artists who work with different forms of language—from books, calligraphy and silent film, to performance, music and dance—to reflect on the ways that these systems of knowledge shape our cultural identities. 

Bodies of Knowledge, installation corner (2019)New Orleans Museum of Art

With artists from Iraq, China, Iran, Europe, Morocco, South Africa and the United States, Bodies of Knowledge brought a global perspective to questions surrounding cultural preservation and historical memory, asking us to envision history as a form that can be constantly erased, rewritten and asserted anew.

Family Tree (Installation view, New Orleans Museum of Art) (2019) by Zhang HuanNew Orleans Museum of Art

Zhang Huan’s Family Tree documents a day-long performance in which he worked with calligraphers to cover his face with Chinese characters taken from poems and folktales, personal recollections, and the artist’s own personal family history. Over the course of nine photographs, we witness the layering of words on his skin until his face is completely blackened, and the writing totally obscured.

Family Tree (panel 1) (2000) by Zhang HuanNew Orleans Museum of Art

Family Tree shows us how we are all marked by our culture and history, our faces and bodies carrying many different influences and experiences, past and present, familial and external, and real and imagined.

Family Tree (panel 3) (2000) by Zhang HuanNew Orleans Museum of Art

As Zhang has said, “The body is the only direct way through which I come to know society and society comes to know me. The body is proof of identity. The body is language.”

Family Tree (panel 6) (2000) by Zhang HuanNew Orleans Museum of Art

Zhang created Family Tree shortly after he immigrated from China to New York; the performance also reflects on his personal experience of immigration to the United States.

Bodies of Knowledge (Installation view, New Orleans Museum of Art) (2019)New Orleans Museum of Art

In his 2012 video Black Mask, Wilmer Wilson IV slowly obscures his face with black post-it notes. Through this act of erasure, the artist asks us to consider the ways in which black bodies are at once hyper-visible—subject to constant surveillance, censure and even violence—and also absent from many histories and narratives.

Black Mask (video still) (2012) by Wilmer Wilson IVNew Orleans Museum of Art

Wilson IV is known for what he calls “social skins”—performances in which he covers his body with objects such as postage stamps, peroxide strips and brown paper bags.

Black Mask (2012) by Wilmer Wilson IVNew Orleans Museum of Art

Black Mask illustrates how marginalized people are often caught in this bind between visibility and invisibility.

Bodies of Knowledge, Wilmer Wilson IV (2019) by Wilmer Wilson IVNew Orleans Museum of Art

In Bodies of Knowledge, Black Mask was presented alongside a new series of artist books that document Wilson IV’s recent Running Tour performances.

Running Tour by Wilmer Wilson IVNew Orleans Museum of Art

Filled with photographs the artist snaps without halting his stride, these books are parodies of a tourist guidebook, filled with blurred, disorienting images that ask us to consider whose stories get told and why.

Bodies of Knowledge (Installation view) (2019)New Orleans Museum of Art

Wafaa Bilal's 168:01 is a monument to the staggering cultural losses Iraq has endured over the past several decades. This bookshelf commemorates the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, during which the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad lost its entire library due to looters who set fire to the collection.

168:01, detail (2016) by Wafaa BilalNew Orleans Museum of Art

During the fire, more than 70,000 books were reduced to ashes. More than sixteen years later, few books remain in the library for art students to read and study.

168:01, Visitor interaction (2019) by Wafaa BilalNew Orleans Museum of Art

With the goal of restocking this lost library, 168:01 invited museum visitors to fill these shelves with books requested by Iraqi students, and take one of the blank white books on the shelf in exchange.

168:01 (Installation view, New Orleans Museum of Art) (2016 to present) by Wafaa BilalNew Orleans Museum of Art

As book donations accrued, the austere white bookshelf became saturated with knowledge and color, while the blank white takeaway books served as a reminder to their new owners that not everyone has the same access to knowledge.

168:01, Installation view (2019) by Wafaa BilalNew Orleans Museum of Art

During the exhibition, 500 books were donated by NOMA visitors, and are now in the process of being shipped to the University of Baghdad, to help with the process of rebuilding.

168:01, Interaction (2019) by Wafaa BilalNew Orleans Museum of Art

168:01 references a thirteenth century legend in which Mogul invaders threw the books of the Bayt al-Hikma—the House of Wisdom—into the Tigris River, where their pages bled ink for 168 hours. Bilal’s title, 168:01, refers to the first minute after such a loss, which is also, for him, the starting point for recovery.

The Ashes Series: Samara (2003/2013) by Wafaa BilalNew Orleans Museum of Art

168:01 was accompanied by four photographs from Bilal's The Ashes Series. On first view, these images seem to document the aftermath of violence during the War in Iraq, upon a closer look they reveal themselves to be fictions.

The Ashes Series: Piano (2003-2013) by Wafaa BilalNew Orleans Museum of Art

These photographs are taken from miniature, hand-made models that Bilal constructed. Each of these models references a journalistic photograph of Iraq that circulated during the conflict.

The Ashes Series: Piano (2003-2013) by Wafaa BilalNew Orleans Museum of Art

Each photograph includes a scattering of ashes that commemorate the destruction of cultural heritage, and the futures that will never come to pass as a result of the war.

16_Adriana CorralNew Orleans Museum of Art

Adriana Corral’s installation Memento responds to the widespread phenomenon of enforced “disappearances” of women along the border between the United States and Mexico. Focusing on the 2001 homicides of eight young girls in Ciudad Juárez, Corral worked in collaboration with a human rights attorney to research the names and identities of the women who were disappeared.

17_Adriana CorralNew Orleans Museum of Art

Corral transfers the names of missing women directly onto the gallery wall. Then, through a process that is akin to a ritual act, she burns these name documents, creating an ash burial plot sifted onto the museum floor. In this transfer process, the names become illegible, showing us the way such histories are often intentionally erased, and also offering belated recognition to the victims of these crimes.

27_William KentridgeNew Orleans Museum of Art

William Kentridge’s film Zeno Writing is set against the backdrop of World War I, layering stop-motion animations of the artist’s charcoal-and-pastel drawings with footage from live performances, documentary films and musical scores.

30_William KentridgeNew Orleans Museum of Art

Kentridge laboriously drew, erased, and redrew scenes upon a single sheet of paper taken from his own personal journal. Through this relentless reworking of text and image, the shadows of erasures left behind from earlier versions become the basis for new drawings, making visible the ongoing transformation of history, politics, and memory.

29_William KentridgeNew Orleans Museum of Art

Born in South Africa, Kentridge’s drawings and films often critique his country’s colonial and apartheid histories, which continue to inform the present. As the artist has stated, he is fascinated with the stories of “people stuck at the edge of a historical project about to implode, stuck waiting for the eruption to happen.”

Bodies of Knowledge (Installation view) (2019)New Orleans Museum of Art

Brève braise (2010 - present) by Manon BelletNew Orleans Museum of Art

Manon Bellet's installation Brève braises highlights the fragility of paper as a carrier of text and keeper of histories. Composed of hundreds of fragments of burned paper affixed to the wall, Brève braises loosely resembles a musical score or a series of calligraphic marks. The paper—a material that typically carries the weight and value of its written inscriptions—is left to speak for itself.

5_Manon BelletNew Orleans Museum of Art

Throughout the exhibition, a series of musicians performed in front of the installation.

Activation of Brève braises featuring Manon Bellet and Justin Peake (2019) by Manon Bellet and Justin PeakeNew Orleans Museum of Art

During these performances, the improvisational energy of the musicians —and the movement of audiences as they respond to the music—caused the papers to slowly drop from the wall and crumble to the ground, signaling the ever-shifting and ultimately impermanent nature of written texts and histories.

Rapture Series (Women With Writing On Hands) by Shirin NeshatNew Orleans Museum of Art

Shirin Neshat’s photographs and films respond to the widespread misrepresentation of the Middle East in Western media. Exploring stereotypes surrounding Islamic militancy and femininity, this photographic still comes from Neshat’s 1999 film Rapture.

Neshat inscribes calligraphic texts on the exposed palms of women clad in black chadors, who raise their hands in a symbol of protest. In this photograph, Neshat’s subject reveals text borrowed from the rebellious feminist poetry of Forough Farrokhzad, a female poet who broke cultural taboos in twentieth-century Iran.

Rapture (1999) by Shirin NeshatNew Orleans Museum of Art

This photograph was presented alongside a looped presentation of three of Neshat’s moving-image works, Rapture (1999), Turbulent (1998), and Fervor (2000), in NOMA’s Stern Auditorium.

America (film still) (2019) by Garrett BradleyNew Orleans Museum of Art

Garrett Bradley’s multi-channel film installation America proposes that there was an entire body of silent film made by and for African-American audiences in the early 20th century, that has since been lost.

America (film still) (2019) by Garrett BradleyNew Orleans Museum of Art

A filmmaker and artist based in New Orleans, Bradley took as her starting point a 2013 survey conducted by the Library of Congress which states that 70% of silent films created in the U.S. between 1912 and 1929 have gone missing.

Garrett Bradley, America (installation view) (2019) by Garrett BradleyNew Orleans Museum of Art

America reimagines this lost archive through a collection of new films created entirely in New Orleans with a community of local non-actors.

America (installation view two) (2019) by Garrett BradleyNew Orleans Museum of Art

The film interweaves visual quotes from recently rediscovered silent films like Lime Kiln Club Field Day that feature African-Americans, with storylines that shed light on little known aspects of African-American history.

America (installation view one) (2019) by Garrett BradleyNew Orleans Museum of Art

These include a chapter devoted to the story of Florence Price, the first African-American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra, and another focusing on James Reese Europe, the first African-American to receive a public funeral in New York City.

America (installation view four) (2019) by Garrett BradleyNew Orleans Museum of Art

Offering new imagery of human connection and collectivity, America demonstrates the power of rebuilding lost archives and reimagining past histories.

Black Magic Dance Performance (2019) by Edward SpotsNew Orleans Museum of Art

For Bodies of Knowledge, New Orleans based dancer, choreographer, and actor Edward Spots--a lead performer in Garrett Bradley's film America--choreographed Black Magic, a new site-specific dance performance for NOMA in collaboration with dancer Donna Crump.

Edward Spots Performance (2019) by Edward SpotsNew Orleans Museum of Art

Treating the body as a carrier of cultural memory, Black Magic conveyed movement as a language that can call forth the many different histories our bodies keep.

Black Magic Dance (2019-06-28) by Edward Spots, Donna CrumpNew Orleans Museum of Art

Black Magic conveyed joy as a form of resistance to dominant depictions of the black experience.

Black Magic Dance (2019-06-28) by Edward Spots, Donna CrumpNew Orleans Museum of Art

Black Magic was performed by Spots, Crump, and twelve youth dancers from Dancing Grounds, a New Orleans-based nonprofit organization that works at the intersection of dance, education, and social justice.

15_Mahmoud ChoukiNew Orleans Museum of Art

Mahmoud Chouki created a series of site-specific performances entitled Safar, which means “to travel” in Arabic. Through collaboration with a group of international musicians in New Orleans, Chouki created a series of five live performances in NOMA’s Great Hall, and a series of improvisational concerts within the exhibition space.

Bodies of Knowledge, performance (2019) by Katie PfohlNew Orleans Museum of Art

These concerts incorporated musical influences from across the globe, ranging from European classical, Andalusian from Southern Spain, Levantine music from the Middle East, Maghrebian music from North Africa, Latin American music, and jazz from the Southern United States.

Mahmound Chouki and Steve Lands, performance (2019) by Mahmound Chouki and Steve LandsNew Orleans Museum of Art

This series of performances culminated in a final performance on the closing day of the show in which all of the musicians Chouki worked with over the course of the project came together to collectively perform Chouki’s new composition.

Credits: Story

1) Garrett Bradley, America (film still), 2019, Multi-Channel video installation, 35mm film transferred to video, black and white, sound, Image courtesy of the artist. Photography by BLVXMTH. 2019 © Aubin Pictures Inc.

2) Zhang Huan, Family Tree, 2000 (Detail), 9 Chromogenic color prints on Fuji Archival paper, Edition A/P 1, 80 x 70 inches each, Collection of Howard and Joy Osofsky, Photograph courtesy Zhang Huan Studio © Zhang Huan, courtesy Pace Gallery

3) Wilmer Wilson IV, Black Mask, 2012, Single channel video, 5:56 minutes, Edition 3/5, New Orleans Museum of Art © Wilmer Wilson IV

4) Wilmer Wilson IV, A Running Tour of Some Monuments of Philadelphia (detail), 2016, Collection of the Artist © Wilmer Wilson IV

5) Wafaa Bilal, 168:01, 2016 to present, Site-specific installation, Dimensions variable, Image courtesy of the artist, Photograph by John Dean © Wafaa Bilal

6) Wafaa Bilal, The Ashes Series: Samara, 2003-2013, Archival inkjet photograph, 40 x 50 inches, Image courtesy of the artist © Wafaa Bilal

7) Wafaa Bilal, The Ashes Series: Piano, 2003-2013, Archival inkjet photograph, 40 x 50 inches, Image courtesy of the artist © Wafaa Bilal

8) Wafaa Bilal, The Ashes Series: Pool, 2003-2013, Archival inkjet photograph, 40 x 50 inches, Image courtesy of the artist © Wafaa Bilal

9) Adriana Corral, Memento, 2013-present, Site-specific installation, Dimensions variable, Female victim names (Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico) transferred onto (three) walls: acetone, ash burial plot in the center of the space (dimensions of plot, 4ft x 8ft x1inch), Ashes obtained from burned name listings transferred onto wall, Installation image from the McNay Museum, San Antonio, Texas, 2013 © Adriana Corral

10) William Kentridge, Zeno Writing, 2002, animated film using charcoal and pastel drawing, footage from theater performance, documentary material from First World War, 35mm and digital video, Video and DVD transfer, 12 minutes, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Joint acquisition of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, funded by Nina and Michael Zilkha; and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 2004.201, Installation image courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Houston © William Kentridge

11) Manon Bellet, Brève braise, 2010-present, Site-specific installation, Burnt silk paper affixed to the wall, Dimensions variable, Installation image from New Orleans Museum of Art, 2019, Photo by Roman Alohkin © Manon Bellet

12) Manon Bellet, Brève braise, 2010-present, Site-specific installation, Burnt silk paper affixed to the wall, Dimensions variable, Image courtesy of the artist from a performance at Kunsthal Nord, Aalborg, Denmark, Photo by Niels Fabæk © Manon Bellet

13) Manon Bellet, Brève braise, 2010-present, Site-specific installation, Burnt silk paper affixed to the wall, Dimensions variable, Image from a performance by Justin Peake at New Orleans Museum of Art, Photo by Roman Alokin © Manon Bellet

14) Manon Bellet, Brève braise, 2010-present, Site-specific installation, Burnt silk paper affixed to the wall, Dimensions variable, Image from a performance by at New Orleans Museum of Art, Photo by Roman Alokin © Manon Bellet

15) Shirin Neshat, Rapture Series (Women with Writing on Hands, 1999, Chromogenic color print, 40 ½ x 60 ¼ inches, Edition of 5 + 2AP. New Orleans Museum of Art, Museum Purchase, 2001.292, © Shirin Neshat, courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris

16) Shirin Neshat, Rapture (Production still), 1999, Two-channel black and white video, sound (projection), 13 min loop, © Shirin Neshat, Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

17) Garrett Bradley, America (film still), 2019, Multi-Channel video installation, 35mm film transferred to video, black and white, sound, Image courtesy of the artist. Photography by BLVXMTH. 2019 © Aubin Pictures Inc.

18) Garrett Bradley, America, 2019, Multi-Channel video installation, 35mm film transferred to video, black and white, sound, Image courtesy of the artist. Photography by BLVXMTH. 2019 © Aubin Pictures Inc.

19) Edward Spots, Photography, Sesthasak Boonchai

20) Edward Spots, Black Magic, 2019, New Orleans Museum of Art, Performance documentation by Roman Alokhin

21) Mahmoud Chouki in New Orleans, 2019, Photography by Marion Hill © Marion Hill

22) Mahmoud Chouki and Dan Oestreicher, New Orleans Museum of Art, Photography by Katie Pfohl

23) Mahmound Chouki and Steve Lands, New Orleans Museum of Art, Photography by Katie Pfohl

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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