Past

Represented, revered, and recognized by people around the world, Harlem is a continually expanding nexus of black culture, history and iconography. Venerable landmarks, such as the Abyssinian Baptist Church, the Apollo Theater, Hotel Theresa, Audubon Ballroom and 125th Street, remain popular emblems of important historic moments and moods. The Studio Museum ongoing series, Harlem Postcards, invites contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds to reflect on Harlem as a site for artistic contemplation and production. Installed in the Museum lobby and available to visitors free of charge, Harlem Postcards present intimate views and fresh perspectives on this famous neighborhood.

This season we feature images by Yasmine Braithwaite, Zoe Crosher, Moyra Davey and Lauren Halsey.

Yasmine Braithwaite

Size of the Third World, 2012

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Expanding the Walls participant, born 1996
Aquinas High School, Bronx, NY

Zoe Crosher

Katy, Kori & Rashid and other backs (Crumpled),
for the Studio Museum
, 2012

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For Harlem Postcards, I decided to concentrate on the physicality of the existing postcard archive. Acknowledging the artists who have participated before me, I photographed the crumpled up backs of postcards to emphasize the ephemeral nature of printed matter. As a Californian, I’ve learned about Harlem primarily through what I have seen, read and heard, rather than experienced. So I wanted to stay away from a more conventional approach to documenting a place I know only as an imaginary version of itself. Rephotographing the backs of the previous postcards brings physical attention to past efforts to capture a photographic sense of Harlem, and it is these instances I want to bring to the forefront— documents of imaginings of Harlem that have come before me.

Born 1975, Santa Rosa, CA
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

Moyra Davey

Critter, 2012

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For twelve years I’ve lived in an apartment overlooking Trinity Cemetery. I watch it change from twig-brown and snow-dusted in winter, to delicate green in spring, and finally to a burst of dense
emerald puffs of foliage by summer. When the trees are bare, you can see how the cemetery is laid out in a spiral formation cut into a mound, a little like Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel. By summer, this structural view is obliterated by the intense proliferation of vegetation, and if you walk there on a hot day you might mistake this tiny patch of land for jungle, so thick is the tangle of vines and ivy, so deafening the chants of cicadas and crows. Trinity, dense with avian life, is also home to many hawks. John James Audubon, the bird-man, is buried here, as is Ralph Ellison. That day, thinking of Harlem’s rich literary history, I sought out his grave.

Born 1958, Toronto, ON, Canada
Lives and works in New York, NY

Lauren Halsey

Summa Evreethang, 2012

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Commodity culture in Harlem is rich with merchants and artisans selling a vivid assortment of incense, oils, art, jewelry, clothing and mix CDs. Some merchants sell “Best Of” CDs alongside personalized soundtracks that embody the moods of barbeques, love-making and catching the Holy Ghost. Song lists become recipes to attain the idealized experiences of the titles, for a dollar: “Don’t Say Goodnight,” “The Glory of Black Gospel,” “Turn Off the Lights, Mix II,” “Let’s Party.” An older man near 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard tiled his mixes atop a picnic table. I bought twenty. He became fixated on all twenty as a collective, smiled and promised me a good night.

Born 1987, Los Angeles, CA
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA