Known for his immersive and performative explorations of American Blackness, Azikiwe Mohammed will open his solo show, Potential Futures / Black Receipts, at IDIO Gallery this Saturday from 6-9pm. In advance of the opening reception, I was able to catch up with Mohammed to ask him a few questions about this particular body of work (on view at IDIO through February 12th), which was inspired by his recent travels to some of the most densely-populated Black cities in America; the multimedia collection of textiles, photographs, sculptures and more explores the ironies of identity and culture, while also looking for answers as to why they exist.
I know you traveled to multiple cities to explore American Blackness for this project; which specific places did those include, how did you select them, how long did you stay in each one, and were you making consecutive trips or taking breaks in between?
This past trip included two stops in Pennsylvania (Reading and Kutztown), Atlanta, Savannah, Birmingham, Jackson and Memphis all by Greyhound not counting the trip from PA to Atlanta which was a train. Savannah, Jackson and Birmingham are three cities that make up my fictional town of New Davonhaime. The name New Davonhaime comes from an average of the names of the five most densely populated Black cities in America. The other two are New Orleans and Detroit which I will be visiting soon.
And during your actual visits, how did you go about searching for answers to your questions?
During my visits I walk a lot and talk to whomever I can. People at bars, taxi drivers (in many of these towns there are not sidewalks so taxis are the only way to get around), people at the sites I visit. Since I have a large camera (4 x 5) people are curious. Since many of these populations have been consistent for decades a new comer is easy to spot and they are curious as to why I am there. They have as many questions as I do if not more. My main goal is to listen as when you ask people who haven’t been asked often thy are happy to share.
What was your timeline like in terms of actual creation + curation? I’m sure the photography was throughout, but what about the other mediums, like textiles and sculpture? And was there a specific moment that you can remember when you felt that the collection was complete?
The pieces in this show have all be made in the past four months. This collection isn’t complete as a lot of it explores my own Blackness, the Blackness of others and what our larger place in America is. These concerns don’t have any end in sight that I can see. Instead it is an ongoing conversation that this show represents a timed portrait of. A portrait that is continually changing. I will be back in the studio on Monday after the opening on Saturday. There is still much work to do.
What do you feel when you look at this particular body of your own work?
I feel Black and dually not Black enough. I wish my Father could be here to see this as I think he might be pleased. I look at these images and items and see the other pieces yet to be made. I hope people can see the possibilities that exist and the song that lives between the items. Songs get caught in your head. I hope this song gets caught in peoples heads.
Apart from the pieces you created, what are some things you think you’ll permanently carry with you from these journeys, either artistically and/or personally?
Representation matters. Sitting and listening matters. Proving yourself wrong is the only way to ever be right. The lies told on us are to be re-written by us, and by our hands can we achieve the freedom we were promised but never delivered.
You were born and raised in NYC, and you still (as far as I know) live here now. Did you ever consider living elsewhere?
I have considered living in a few different places, but I would ideally like to be on the road for most of my time. Most of the questions I have the answers to can be found where the people are, are we are spread wide.
What is your personal definition of the “American dream”?
We’ve been sold the American Dream as a means to get ourselves out of our current situation and get into anything else we could imagine. Nothing is too far, and from nothing we can become something. It just reads as pull yourself up by your bootstraps talk to me. I think its a load of trash. Never were the people on the margins included in this fairy tale. No one that looks like me or the people I fuck with signed the Declaration of Independence.
How do you feel your role as an artist has changed or may change during the next four years, if at all?
I have been engaged in the work I am currently doing before our current political climate and most likely I will be after as well. Many of us have been trying to address the issues I hope to touch on with this current body of work for years now. Other people are just catching on that things have sucked for us for the past big chunk of years (if they were ever good for us to begin with). Things have collapsed to the point where what many of us have been talking about for some time have become relevant / interesting to a larger swath of people. If it falls out of fashion when / if things stabilize I will continue what I have been doing because I doubt they will stabilize for me and people that look like me as they haven’t yet so why should they without constant attention.
Finally, what’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far this year, and what’s the best thing you’ve seen on the internet so far today?
The best thing that has happened this year is seeing Brown women continue to get more and more accolades which is a trend I hope to see continue thru the rest of the year, and I just forwarded a photo of the best thing I saw on the internet today:
See Mohammed’s show starting this Saturday (1/28) from 6-9pm. The work will be on view until February 12th; here are a few images to explore:
Unarmed 2016, 2017, gold and silver nameplates on jewlery board
1986 – 2011, 1919 – 2015, 1994 – 2005, 2017, neon
Potential Futures #4, 2016, c-print
Potential Futures #7, 2016, c-print
Josie from the Happy Hocker, part of the series From Here On Out, 2016, c – print
Tamara, part of the series From Here On Out, 2016, c – print
Aisha, part of the series From Here On Out, 2016, c – print
Nadir, part of the series From Here On Out, 2016, c – print
Cecil Robinson, part of the series From Here On Out, 2017, c – print
Tierra’s House, part of the series From Here On Out, 2017, c – print