Kameelah Janan Rasheed
An Alphabetical Accumulation of Approximate Observations
How To Suffer Politely (And Other Etiquette)
Off-site at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station
September 28, 2018 – March 24, 2019
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in Canada by Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist, writer and educator Kameelah Janan Rasheed. This project brings together two large-scale, text-based public installations: How To Suffer Politely (And Other Etiquette) presented off-site at the Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station and An Alphabetical Accumulation of Approximate Observations in CAG’s street level window spaces.
Language is the material through which Rasheed’s artistic practice takes shape and it does so across a variety of public environments: publications, performative lectures, gallery installations and large-scale outdoor works. Within these modes, she uses expressions of everyday vernaculars and experimental poetics to consider Black subjectivity and the relationships we craft between disputed pasts, a set of sprawling present conditions and contingent futures. Core to Rasheed’s work is a direct address and openness to exchange with her audiences: as an educator, she understands her installations as educational experiments where collaboration rather than spectatorship is the desired mode of engagement. She aims to interrupt the speed and care with which we normally encounter language in the context of the city street, an essay, a gallery exhibition or in other environments, encouraging us to actively make meaning alongside, through and with the works.
How To Suffer Politely (And Other Etiquette) at the Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station is a series of safety-yellow vinyl prints that both invoke and satirize traditional etiquette guides. Created in direct response to the escalating visibility of violence against Black people across the United States, the work examines the resulting expectations placed on these communities to find ways to police their rage and pain and to maintain restraint and civility so as to ensure others are not made uncomfortable. More broadly, the work asks its viewers to consider how such self-monitoring of everything from emotional expression to physical movement is used as a tool to perpetuate the social order of oppressive systems. Previously exhibited across the USA, in the UK and in Zimbabwe, each time it is presented the project resonates with the specific social, political and economic conditions of Black communities in those particular locales. In Vancouver, How To Suffer Politely … asks viewers to scrutinize our own city’s history of racialized violence towards its Black communities, the willful erasures of Black visibility and over-simplified narratives rehearsed about such displacement that continues to this day.
Extending across CAG’s window spaces, An Alphabetical Accumulation of Approximate Observations is an evolving collection of succinct poetic gestures developed over a multi-year writing process. Comprising over one hundred alliterative pairings, a fraction of which are presented in this second large-scale iteration, An Alphabetical Accumulation of Approximate Observations maps Rasheed’s considerations of comfort, apathy and premature celebration. The seemingly absurd word pairings — such as lethargic / legislations, delicate / drone and uppity / uterus — are at once provocative and elliptical. These humorous and dystopic adages ask us to consider both routine abuses of power as well as the responses to said abuses.
The printed panels of poetry appear to punctuate the windows at intervals across the building’s facade behind which glows ‘Baker-Miller Pink,’ a paint colour applied in numerous penitentiaries, asylums and public schools in the 1970s with claims to notionally reduce hostile or aggressive behaviour. In this context, the colour might signal a contemporary weariness or indifference, but also the obsolescence of certain ways of being in the world, for organizing and articulating realities and for making change. In consideration of the thousands of pedestrians who pass by CAG’s façade day after day, Rasheed has designed these short aphorisms as a pedagogical intervention, as invitations for repeated reads. With each new engagement, she offers each viewer the chance to conjure fresh sets of connections, associations and queries.
At Yaletown-Roundhouse Station work is presented in partnership with the Canada Line Public Art Program, InTransit BC