Highlights from Colored People Time

A visitor stands in front of an orange wall with an artwork that reads "Not my father, not my brother'

Installation view: Colored People Time at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, 2019.

What Time Is It?

There is no question that the concept of time has shifted for many these last few months. My understanding of time altered with the birth of my daughter four years ago and when I joined the List Center as the Campus and Public Program Manager six months later. My notions of time evolved again as I researched the philosophy of time and the construction of language, history, and temporality as the List Center prepared to present Colored People Time: Mundane Futures, Quotidian Pasts, Banal Presents (CPT), organized by Meg Onli, Associate Curator at Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania.

Lately I have been thinking about the racial inequalities addressed in Colored People Time, especially as I read about how economic and racial disparities influence the extent to which the pandemic is affecting communities across the United States. The New York Times article “Black Americans Face Alarming Rates of Coronavirus Infection in Some States” published last month notes, “For many public health experts, the reasons behind the disparities are not difficult to explain, the result of longstanding structural inequalities.” Adjacent forms of racial injustice are underscored in Carolyn Lazard’s video Pre-Existing Condition (2019) which considers a largely untold history of medical experimentation on incarcerated people of color, or in the story of Henrietta Lacks, the African-American woman whose cancer cells were taken for medical research without her permission or knowledge and remain “immortalized” as one of the most important cell lines in medicine. (CPT addresses this history through the presentation of a framed stock photo of divided HeLa cells). Inspired by the depth of Onli’s multidisciplinary research, we developed a reading resource area in our lobby with articles and books for visitors to learn more about the themes in the exhibition, including Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, as well as critical studies by Saidiya Hartman, Christina Sharpe, Anne Tsing, and others.

We should all be urged to mine our past in order to evaluate the now and envision our future. If you are up for the task, take a deeper dive.

Emily Garner 
Campus and Public Program Manager

Dive Deeper | Exhibition Highlights

Sable Elyse Smith, Coloring Book 33 and Pivot I, 2019
Part of Chapter 2 | Banal Presents

Sable Elyse Smith’s work contends with the United States’ complex history of incarceration by examining the prison-industrial complex as it exists in America today. Smith’s practice is multifaceted, working with mediums that range from painting and sculpture to writing and video. In Banal Presents, both Coloring Book 33 and Pivot I utilize the vernacular of correctional facilities through the appropriation of coloring books and furniture found in visitation rooms. Smith’s reconstructions of these seemingly mundane materials point not only to the violence of mass incarceration, but particularly the trauma that is endured by children who come into daily contact with this institution.

An orange gallery wall features artwork by Sable Elyse Smith, a crayon drawing of a rainbow, and an installation featuring blue buttons in the foreground.

Matthew Angelo Harrison, Queen Mother (Edo, Oldman), 2019
Part of Chapter 3 | Quotidian Pasts

Quotidian Pasts, the second chapter in the three-part exhibition series Colored People Time (presented as the third chapter at the List Center), reconsiders the trafficking of blackness through the colonial practices of collecting, commodifying, and exhibiting people and objects from the African continent. This chapter, turns its lens toward early-twentieth-century anthropological displays. The long history of the exploitation of both African people and their cultures is told through the configuration of a few small objects from the African Collection at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology—a photograph, a journal entry, a letter. Also featuring work by artist Matthew Angelo Harrison, Quotidian Pasts questions: What confers authenticity? How does an object change when dislocated from its time and place within the context of the museum?

3d printed clay figures of ancient African royalty.

LISTEN | Aria Dean and Meg Online Conversation

Tune into this conversation between exhibiting artist Aria Dean and exhibition curator Meg Onli about the inspiration and thinking behind the creation of the exhibition Colored People Time. Here, they discuss accelerationist theory, Dean’s Notes on Blacceleration, and Busta Rhymes. 

READ | Explore the CPT Reading List

While the gallery and our reading nook are currently closed, we invite you to peruse a reading list compiled by exhibition curator, Meg Onli. The list comprises texts, books, and essays that informed much of the thinking behind Colored People Time

One of the works included in Colored People Time: Mundane Futures, Martine Syms’ Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto (2013), provides a new set of values as we speculate about the future in relation to the present moment. The manifesto adapts the same template as Geoff Rymans’ The Mundane Manifesto (2004), which argued for a science fiction centered around humans and the future of planet earth.

Read Martine Syms’ Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto and Geoff Rymans’ Mundane Manifesto and use them as inspiration to create your own “Mundane Manifesto” centered around your re-imaginings of what our future may become based on our present moment. 

Hands with dark skin tone hold a brightly colored box that reads: "Futuro Hospital Style Bedpan" and has an image of a light blue bedpan.

Emily's Picks: What I'm Reading 

As I have mined my book shelves for something to read, I was drawn to How to Cook a Wolf written by M.F.K. Fisher in 1942. There is something resonant from the wartime shortages people were experiencing at the time this book was published to applying her words to life now. I have re-read this book and am still amused by Fisher’s wit and imagination as well as inspired by her notion that “simplicity can be grand.”

This is not a book about how to simplify or merely “make do” with what you have, but how to transform what you have into something extraordinary. I have tried to subscribe to this daily with my daughter. Some days, we do not just have breakfast—we throw a pancake party. On cold, rainy days we throw out some blue and tan sheets and a scattering of shells collected last summer and have a beach day. Creative gestures, large and small keep us amused most days.