Deborah Kass is a Brooklyn-based artist who has lived and worked in the borough for more than fifteen years. She focuses on the intersections between identity, pop culture, and art history. Frequently giving her own spin to signature imagery by twentieth-century male artists, Kass created this bold sculpture in the spirit of Ed Ruscha’s word paintings, such as OOF, Milton Glaser’s I Love NY logo, and Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculptures.
YO refers both to the Spanish pronoun for “I” and to an urban slang greeting, while OY is a common Yiddish word expressing dismay or annoyance. Kass conceived OY/YO during President Obama’s first term, and it was initially installed during his second term. She notes that the work is a product of our political time:
The American promise of equality and fairness was writ in the most diverse administration ever, working to make the country a better place for all. With hate and division now on the rise, it is urgent to see our commonalities, what we share, and what brings us together.
The artist’s first monumental sculpture, OY/YO was originally installed in Brooklyn Bridge Park and later in Williamsburg. In Prospect Heights and neighboring Crown Heights, OY/YO takes on new meaning, as it speaks to the longstanding, complex, and ever-evolving social dynamics between Black, Latinx, and Jewish communities in the neighborhood. Its location on the plaza allows broad access, actively greeting and engaging visitors as they walk by, reading as YO from one direction and OY from the other.
Kameelah Janan Rasheed is a Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist, writer, and former publicschool teacher whose work often uses language to address Black subjectivity and the relationships we craft between the past, present, and future. At the Brooklyn Museum, Rasheed’s two site-specific installations consider how our varied individual positions in the world—formed by the intersections of identities and relative political power—shape our imaginings of what is yet to come.
In her A QUESTION IS A SENTENCE DESIGNED TO ELICIT A RESPONSE. TODAY, WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT THE SLOPPY FUTURE HOLDS, Rasheed has placed four large textile banners, with four subtle yet provocative questions, in the vast space of the interior brick arcade, an under-utilized transitional area at the Museum’s entrance. Rasheed’s banners magnify seemingly simple questions that relate to instability and to anxiety over precarious outlooks. According to the artist, the work is “inspired by attempts to locate the future of self, community, and nations in an increasingly uncertain world.”
Kameelah Janan Rasheed is a Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist, writer, and former public-school teacher whose work often uses language to address Black subjectivity and the relationships we craft between past, present, and future. At the Brooklyn Museum, Rasheed’s two site-specific installations consider how our varied individual positions in the world—formed by the intersections of identities and relative political power—shape our imaginings of what is yet to come.
In her work I AM POROUS. TODAY, I LEAK PREPOSITIONS. SO, I WILL ASK AGAIN, DO YOU HAVE A SIEVE?, blue vinyl-cut prepositions punctuate the plaza stairs. Prepositions are the class of words that convey, for example, the position of something or the time when something happens in relation to something else. According to the artist:
This work explores our precarious relationality to one another (above, across, against, among, around, below) as well as our uncertainty as we try to narrate and plot whether we are at, before, behind, between, a particular construction of the future.
Hank Willis Thomas is a Brooklyn-based conceptual artist who focuses on themes of identity, the media, and popular culture. Thomas’s site-specific neon sculpture LOVE RULES, here in the main lobby, welcomes visitors to the Brooklyn Museum. The artist explains the work’s personal meaning:
I grew up in a family where love overruled. My cousin, Songha Willis, was murdered in Philadelphia in 2000. A month after he died, I found a recording of him singing and the last recorded words I have from him are “love over rules.”
This neon installation poetically affirms the importance of love and compassion amid the violence of our challenging times—particularly as we search for ways, both political and creative, to stop gun violence. Beyond that singular issue, Thomas hopes that his cousin’s last words inspire others to probe love’s role in our lives:
Love is an invitation to people to stand up and be generous every day of their lives. It is not an action of receiving, but rather an action of giving. My question is what do you do to give love? How is love breaking the rules you have in your life?
The Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine (BHAM), co-founded in 2010 by artists Mildred Beltré and Oasa DuVerney, is a socially engaged collaborative art project based in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood; it addresses gentrification and community-building through art-making. BHAM’s DO NOT DISAPPEAR INTO SILENCE was first installed on the artists’ block, nearby on Lincoln Place, in 2014, and has been reconceived for its current site-specific placement, woven into the fencings above the Brooklyn Museum’s glass entrance pavilion. The work comments specifically on the reality of gentrification and disappearing neighbors, families, and demographics, and, more broadly, on the urgent need for collective community action. As the artists have said:
Often when a neighborhood is undergoing rapid change, outdoor space is criminalized for some, while being preserved for others. . . . DO NOT DISAPPEAR INTO SILENCE is a call to action—and an affirmation of developing and maintaining strong social ties, in order to sustain a vibrant community.
In its imperative warning against silence, or the absence of words or speech, BHAM’s work proposes that artists and artworks can speak out for otherwise unspoken concerns and encourage the voices of silenced communities.
Something to Say: Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, Deborah Kass, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Hank Willis Thomas
October 3, 2018–July 14, 2019
In this yearlong activation, Brooklyn artists Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, Deborah Kass, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Hank Willis Thomas present their work in our public spaces—the plaza green, steps, and promenade outside and the lobby within—emphasizing the Museum as a civic space for conversation and learning. Through their text-based works, these artists use language, questions, and humor to engage topics ranging from national debates to local community issues, sparking dialogue around some of the most pressing questions of our time and inspiring us to listen, share with one another, and connect through art.
Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine’s fence weaving, similar to those on view across the borough, sits on the promenade above the glass entrance pavilion in a direct entreaty to visitors that subtly questions neighborhood power dynamics. Deborah Kass’s vibrant yellow OY/YO sculpture seeks to evoke joy and unity in its playful monumentalizing of classic New York slang. Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s two site-specific installations use questions and prepositions to give voice to a sense of individual and collective identity in a time of upheaval. Hank Willis Thomas’s neon installation speaks out for love and compassion, despite personal pain and loss.
Something to Say: Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, Deborah Kass, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Hank Willis Thomas is curated by Sharon Matt Atkins, Director of Curatorial Affairs, and Carmen Hermo, Associate Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum.
Leadership support for this exhibition is provided by Jill and Jay Bernstein.