While visiting the V & A, I met a wonderful sister-artist who encouraged me to visit the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton in South London. I am glad I did. Upon my arrival to that community, light bulbs went off in my head regarding my ongoing interest in racial and spatial politics. Put plainly, I am interested in how people claim (or lose) power on the basis of how they are arranged or arrange themselves in particular spaces, especially urban ones. “Where do people go when neighborhoods gentrify?” are among my research questions.
Not unlike many cities in the States – among them Harlem, as a thoughtful writer/intellectual/native New Yorker I met at the archives noted – London is gentrifying. The politics of changing spaces are increasingly in view. We might consider a closing dance floor in Ibiza, a bustling Hamburg, and shifts in the urban African vote. The particularities of each case aside, there is a geographical prong to all of these narratives, even in the recent referendum in England. Meanwhile, words like chic and commercial are sometimes carelessly heard, shielding the realities of the marginal and displaced.
On the train ride back to my lodgings, I thought about these possibly related developments and others. Doubtless an August 29 event at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, will get me on the way to finding answers as will serious time in, yes, many archives.
At this event, I will join my former University of Chicago classmate Kalisha Buckhanon for 90 minutes. She will read an excerpt from her latest book Solemn. Her selection dovetails with a video and a short film that make up a digital installation I’ve created.
The installation receives inspiration from interviews I’ve conducted in recent years with people of African descent who have or once had residential ties to South Florida. This research is an outcome of watching Miami, my hometown, become another gentrified space. All this – as I have said in previous blog entries – as my great aunt, who is approaching her 100th year birthday, still lives in the same house her Bahamian-born father purchased years ago. That house is a short walk to the bay and thus, is lucrative property. Her neighbors increasingly do not look like her.
For cities to grow economically, capital must circulate. Which bodies move or stand still and in which directions do they go and for what reasons are other questions worth asking. Meanwhile, my particular position on the entire process is still evolving, but will doubtless involve some hope for more equitable distribution of resources, land, et cetera. The Black Cultural Archives’ very existence was achieved by similar hopes. In this two-year-old building, researchers can recover the history of people of African descent in Great Britain (and beyond). I look forward to fully exploring their collection.
I also look forward to seeing each student enrolled in this fall’s “Bebop to Hip Hop: Young America and Music” course submit a song that will become a playlist for the August 29th event. In other words, their songs must narrate some aspect of postwar movement. The music can come from any genre. I can’t wait to see what they offer.