Nomenclature

2016

Presented at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) as part of the group show, The Arch of My Eye's Orbit (curated by Hrag Vartanian) 

Digital Chromogenic Prints and reproductions of Ebony Magazine, Dimensions Variable

In Nomenclature, Artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed explores the visual representation of racial nomenclature in an effort to uncover attempts to self-identify in Black communities from the early 1900s through present day – part of a larger research endeavor Rasheed has undertaken over the past two years. At the crux of this exploration is a letter published in 1928 by author and Pan-Africanist intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois, then-editor of the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine, in response to a question posed by a high school student, who wondered why the publication chose to “designate, and segregate us as Negroes, and not as Americans.” “Negro,” the young man suggested, was a “white man’s word” designed “to make us feel inferior.” In his reply, Du Bois disagrees with the student, arguing that the term “Americans” was insufficient since black people in the United States still could not exercise some of the fundamental rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship. Furthermore, he cautioned the young man against mistaking naming with reality, reflecting, "If men despise Negroes, they will not despise them less if Negroes are called "colored" or "Afro-Americans." However, the desire to find "proper designation" for people of African descent in America has persisted. Using both digital archives and physical collections in New York City, Rasheed has found numerous terms used by various communities to define themselves on their own terms in ways that either highlight nationalist desires, historical relationships, or divine origins. Here, Rasheed pairs a grid of 21 framed prints bearing the terms uncovered in her research with a print of a 1967 Ebony magazine spread entitled, "What's in a Name?" where Lerone Bennett Jr. reprints Du Bois' 1928 editorial response in a gesture to reignite the national debate over naming. In doing so, Rasheed carries this conversation into the 21st century, suggesting that issues related to the language of taxonomies and their role in race relations in the US is anything but resolved.

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