Brief Histories presents Studies for a Library, an exhibition by Joe Namy, on view through October 28, 2023. In Studies for a Library, Namy explores the transformation of grief and the coping methods of survivors through a body of work that includes a video installation, photographs, selection of books, and a sound sculpture. Together, these elements map the library as a space where memorial, healing, and regeneration intersect.
Central to the exhibition, the video installation, Studies for a Library (2023) tells the story of how The Khalid Jabara ‘Tikkun Olam’ Memorial Library at a preschool in Tulsa, Oklahoma came together, highlighting its collection of childrenʼs books focused on early childhood development. Teaching ideas of empathy, compassion, fairness, justice, and peace, the library is dedicated to Khalid Jabara, the artistʼs cousin, who, in a tragic hate crime, was killed by a racist neighbor at the front steps of his familyʼs porch in south Tulsa in 2016. Namyʼs video, made between the childrenʼs library and a studio in Tulsa – and which comes from a larger documentary project about the aermath – presents a meditative loop, reflecting on the moments aer the tragedy occurred, in the acts of mourning and acceptance, and the need to teach love. Flowers, books, and colors fade into the screen, and the image cuts between assemblages the artist created and scenes filmed in the library. Narrated by Khalidʼs sister, Victoria, and the preschoolʼs director, Shelli Wright, and accompanied by a composition played by Detroit-based harpist Ahya Simone, Namy renders an intimate portrait of the memorial library, dealing with endemic tragedy and becoming a catalyst for the transformation of grief to essential elements of learning and growing.
Alongside the video footage, Namy arranges a series of photographs that punctuate the space between looking and listening, framing a child-like perspective. They depict flowers that echo the bouquets of sympathy that once blanketed the front lawn of Khalidʼs family home, and the childrenʼs books from the library collection – their titles made legible are like markers of our societyʼs place in time. While the bookcase in the exhibition presents a selection of the hundreds of books that make up the Khalid Jabara Memorial Library, which was originally assembled by librarians, childrenʼs advocates, and abolitionists.
Collaboration and the auditory experience are critical to Namyʼs practice, and in the sound sculpture, A Siren Sung Six Different Ways (2023), a clay megaphone amplifies six compositions by the artist, sounding on the hour with a series of vocalizations by Alya Al-Sultani, a British-Iraqi dramatic soprano and composer known for her contributions to new opera. In each rendition, Al-Sultani’s interpretation of a siren’s call oscillates between a warning, a lullaby, and a demarcation tone. Side by side, sound sculpture, photographs, and video installation form an aural and visual narrative of the environment of the library, the permanence of the written word and the transience of life in an atmosphere saturated with colors, plants, and sound.
Press release from Brief Histories