Bodies of Knowledge brings together ten international contemporary artists to reflect on the role that language plays in archiving and asserting our cultural identities. Working with materials that range from books and silent film to ink, ashes and musical scores, artists Manon Bellet, Wafaa Bilal, Garrett Bradley, Adriana Corral, Mahmoud Chouki, Zhang Huan, William Kentridge, Shirin Neshat, Edward Spots and Wilmer Wilson IV propose language as a living and ever-evolving document that can counter more staid and static ways of representing our collective pasts. Organized around a series of immersive installation and film projects, Bodies of Knowledge asks us to consider how we might write more inclusive narratives, reshape public space, and account for bodies and histories that have, in large measure, been written out of them. Bringing a new global perspective to current conversations in New Orleans surrounding cultural preservation and historical memory, Bodies of Knowledge draws together artists working with many different systems of knowledge to illustrate how history can be erased, rewritten and asserted anew.
In Brèves Braises, Manon Bellet invites musicians to perform in front of an installation composed of the charred remains of burned paper, letting the paper—a material that typically carries written histories—slowly crumble to dust through the improvisational energy of musicians as they play in front of the piece. Wafaa Bilal’s interactive installation 168:01 commemorates the burning of Baghdad’s libraries during the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, inviting museum visitors to fill the shelves of an austere white library with donated books that will be shipped to the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad at the closing of the exhibition. Garrett Bradley’s immersive, multi-channel film America proposes that there was an entire body of silent films made by and for African American artists, audiences, and filmmakers that has since been lost, and reimagines this lost archive through a corpus of new films. Mahmoud Chouki will create a new musical composition and series of site-specific performances for Bodies of Knowledge, titled Safar, that explores how music can speak across cultural divides to envision new forms of dialogue between East and West. Adriana Corral’s Memento draws attention to the widespread disappearances of women and girls in Juarez, Mexico through a site-specific installation in which the artist writes these women’s names on the museum’s walls with ashes obtained from burned legal documents.
William Kentridge’s animated film Zeno Writing, created in the artist’s signature, stop-motion animation style, layers drawings and texts from Kentridge’s personal journal to reflect on the ongoing transformation of history, politics, and memory in the contemporary world. Zhang Huan’s seminal Family Tree documents a day-long performance wherein Huan covered his face with words, names and stories drawn from his family history and Chinese folktales, so the artist’s likeness becomes completely obscured across a series of nine large-scale photographic portraits. Shirin Neshat’s practice—represented here by a photograph from the artist’s Rapture series and a related film program in the museum’s auditorium—probes stereotypes of Islamic militancy and femininity through a series of works in which Farsi text is superimposed over the body. Edward Spots will choreograph and perform an original dance piece with local New Orleans youth, which will begin on the front steps of the museum and open the exhibition to the public on Friday, June 28. Wilmer Wilson IV’s installation features his 2012 video Black Mask—in which the artist slowly obscures his face with black post-it notes—alongside a new series of artist books in which the artist documents a series of recent performances in cities across the world, including Rome, Philadelphia, London, Brussels, Barcelona, and now, for this exhibition, New Orleans.