New period room at the Met challenges the whole idea of ​​period rooms


Seneca Village was a community located a few hundred yards west of the current location of the Met. Established in 1820 by free African Americans, it was seized and destroyed by eminent domain in 1857 to make way for Central Park. The day before yesterday we could fly presents the speculative story of a household based there, had it been allowed to evolve, with goods passed down from generation to generation. The house – an amalgamation of past and future fusing a historic kitchen with a forward-looking living room – contains dozens of provocative items, both new commissions and items from the museum’s collection.

Commissioned in 2019 to refresh the traditional formula of its period rooms by the director of the Met Max Hollein, the museum’s curators “recognize[d] that it was an opportunity to bring new stories to [these] rooms, ”explains Sarah E. Lawrence, Met curator in charge of the department of European sculpture and decorative arts, and one of the curators involved in the installation. “The whole project is a critique of period rooms,” adds Lawrence, who notes that the project’s stories extend to all African Americans and the entire African diaspora.

Interstices in the structure of the room reveal the richness of its objects. Some are newly ordered, others are from the Met collection.

During the design phase, the Met curators “recognized that this was not our story to tell” and invited the Oscar-winning production designer to Black Panther, Hannah Bleacher and Dr Michelle Commander of the Schomburg Center will serve as lead designer and curator, respectively. The team created a skeletal structure that is about the size of a house in Seneca Village. At one end, the wood-frame kitchen space is filled with items like an 18th-century stoneware pot produced from the commercial oven of Thomas W. Commeraw, an African-American free resident and the Lower East Side. These historic pieces mingle with more contemporary items like a pair of yellow house shoes from acclaimed interior designer Sheila Bridges’ current collection, which sit casually under a blackened teak table designed in 2018 by the South. – African Chuma Maweni. The extension of the domestic space is a white living space, in steel and plexiglass, filled with contemporary art, furniture and books, rendered with an imagined sense of the future.

The title of the exhibition is based on Virginia Hamilton’s children’s book People could fly, a tale of twenty-four Black American folk stories that centers African Americans fleeing bondage and hardship through mystical and supernatural means. Afrofuturism – the concept used to center aesthetics and the conservation of space – imagines the complex story of the black experience and permeates it with uplifting scenarios that center black excellence and creativity, envisioning exciting futures. The past, present and future essentially collapse into each other.

Much of the carefully curated collection of household objects and new artistic works in the exhibition is designed by African artisans and those from its diaspora. Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s The vibrant wallpaper transports us to the past with pasted images that refer to the village of Seneca, superimposed on subtle images, like that of a living descendant of Seneca, that bring us to the present. Fabiola Jean-LouisThe 24k gold-gilded tiered paper dress is painstakingly fashioned in a 19e– century and recognizes the Haitian female deity Ezili (known as the spiritual mother of Haiti and who would have inspired the Haitian revolution) through color and embellishment. Award-winning director Jenn Nkiru’s black-and-white short, unnamed yet, depicting images from the past and present, is looping on a five-screen TV in the exhibition lounge.

Historic pieces like an 18th-century stoneware pot produced from the commercial kiln of Thomas W. Commeraw, a free African American and Lower East Side resident, mingle with more contemporary items like a pair of house shoes. yellow from the current collection of a renowned interior designer. Sheila Bridges, who sit casually under a blackened teak table designed in 2018 by the South African artist Chuma Maweni.

Lawrence notes that historic homes in the United States, especially those in the south, have recently devoted themselves to recognizing all members of a household, including slaves. This is an important step in recognizing the entire history of the United States and the critical role African Americans have played in shaping this country. “But I also strongly believe that we shouldn’t just preserve the domestic interiors of people in their slave status,” Lawrence said. The day before yesterday we could fly Not only gives the Met a chance to reveal a very sensitive part of American history that it has never touched on before, but to do so in auspicious way.

“I hope the public, and especially the new generations of young black children, are able to see the value of going down memory lane,” Dr. Commander says of the exhibit, “also, who “They see the possibilities that speculation can really bring to people in general. This idea of ​​thinking speculatively is liberating.


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