“In The Presence Of Absence” Exhibition

EFA Project Space

poster for “In The Presence Of Absence” Exhibition
[Image: Melinda Hunt, video still from "Loneliness in a Beautiful Place" (2018)]

This event has ended.

Curated by: Jillian Steinhauer

EFA Project Space presents the first exhibition curated by celebrated arts journalist Jillian Steinhauer, In the Presence of Absence, which looks at the nature of grief. The show explores the creative possibilities of mourning and looks at how people transmute suffering over the loss of loved ones into ways to live.

American society is grounded in the denial of grief. The United States was founded on the slaughter of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, yet there are no official, national monuments to attest to these crimes or honor their victims. Meanwhile, statues venerating those who perpetrated them—colonizers and missionaries, slaveholders and Confederate soldiers—abound, creating a sanitized and glorified narrative about the roots of this country. Who gets to be memorialized, and whose perspectives are privileged in that process? These unresolved historical traumas and the erasure of violence underpin our present political reality.

Day to day, American culture treats death as either a public spectacle or a highly private matter. But the attendant sorrow and pain don’t disappear, and time doesn’t heal all wounds; it just changes them. In the Presence of Absence posits that one way to move forward is to deal with our grief—to admit its existence, sit with it, make space for it, and work through it. To hold it in its constancy and discover what it can engender. The artists in this exhibition offer a place to start.

For Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds and Melinda Hunt, grief is a spur to activism. Heap of Birds (Cheyenne/Arapaho) makes artwork that educates viewers about state violence against Native Americans, often through blood-red prints featuring potent, poetic combinations of handwritten words. As the founder of the Hart Island Project, Hunt uses a variety of media to demystify and increase access to Hart Island in the Bronx, where more than 68,000 people have been buried in mass graves since 1980. The island, which is operated by the New York City Department of Correction, remains off-limits to the public.

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko and M. Carmen Lane (Haudenosaunee: Mohawk/Tuscarora) tie together the personal and political dimensions of grief, creating sacred spaces in the gallery through site-specific, mixed-media installations. Both are mourning the losses of family members, and through their processes, investigate the disposability of black and brown bodies in American culture.

In her series N. O. K. – Next of Kin, Inbal Abergil complicates the stereotypically heroic narrative of American militarism, documenting the way Gold Star families keep and display the artifacts of their relatives killed in action.

Emily Carris and Nene Humphrey look to history for methods of giving mourning a physical form. Carris evokes the labor of her African American ancestors by adapting their craft traditions, including protection quilts and homemade dyes, which she has produced from plants like indigo and from vintage shackles. Humphrey began making Victorian mourning braids after her husband died, substituting wire for hair. She is also an artist in residence at the LeDoux Neuroscience Lab at NYU, where she studies the amygdala, the powerhouse of emotions in the brain, and draws connections between its systems and the braids.

Leigh Davis and Valery Jung Estabrook offer work that focuses on healing. In the gallery, Davis will build a psychomanteum, a therapeutic tool meant to bring about emotional experiences. Viewers may enter the darkened chamber and attempt to make spiritual contact with the dead. Estabrook’s videos replicate the physical gestures of care and in the process become their own act of comfort for grief.

A series of public programs will build on the artwork on display in the gallery. At the opening on March 27, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko will present an excerpt from Chameleon, an in-progress multimedia project that explores how Black communities in the U.S. survive and affirm their existence, performed by Nile Harris. On Saturday, March 30, Edgar Heap of Birds will speak about the practices and processes he’s developed over more than three decades of making art. On Thursday, April 11, Todd Shalom will lead Good Grief, an intimate event where participants will share their own stories through pre-recorded songs. On Thursday, May 2, a panel (guests TBA) will delve into the forms and possibilities of memorials, co-presented with Reimagine End of Life, a community-wide organization that explores big questions about life and death. A publication launch and reading event will take place in conjunction with the closing of the exhibition on Saturday, May 11, from 2 to 4 pm.

In the Presence of Absence will be accompanied by a publication with written contributions from Michelle García and Jessica Lynne. The exhibition’s curatorial fellow is Nick Witchey, and curatorial advisor is Meghana Karnik. Melinda Hunt’s work appears courtesy the Canada Council for the Arts.

This exhibition is dedicated to Henrietta, Suzanne, and Bronia.

Confirmed Public Events:

Wednesday, March 27; 5:00PM–6:00PM, curatorial walk-through with Jillian Steinhauer; 6:00 PM–8:00 PM, opening reception & performance by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, of Chameleon (The EFA Installments), commissioned by EFA Project Space

Saturday, March 30, 3:00 PM–5:00 PM, artist talk by Edgar Heap of Birds

Thursday, April 11, 6:30 PM–8:30 PM, Good Grief, a participatory music event with Todd Shalom

Thursday, May 2, 6:30 PM–8:30 PM, panel discussion co-presented by Reimagine End of Life

Saturday, May 11, 2:00 PM–4:00 PM, publication launch and exhibition closing

Additional public programs and partnerships will be announced in the coming weeks. Visit http://projectspace-efanyc.org for an up-to-date schedule of events.

About the Curator:

Jillian Steinhauer is a journalist and editor living in Brooklyn, NY. Her writing has appeared recently in the New York Times, The New Republic, The Nation, and The Art Newspaper, among other publications. She won the 2014 Best Art Reporting Award from the US chapter of the International Association of Art Critics for her work at Hyperallergic, where she was formerly a senior editor. She writes mainly about art and politics, or the intersection of art and the world, but has been known to go on at length about cats, as in an essay commissioned for the 2015 book Cat Is Art Spelled Wrong (Coffee House Press). She received her Master’s in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU.

Artists: Inbal Abergil, Emily Carris, Leigh Davis, Valery Jung Estabrook, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, Nene Humphrey, Melinda Hunt, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, M. Carmen Lane, Todd Shalom



from March 27, 2019 to May 11, 2019

Opening Reception on 2019-03-27 from 18:00 to 20:00

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