MoMA and Care

Tuka Al-Sahlani

Purple and orange background with yellow letters that read: " You have the permission to be unproductive."

This inscription is above the shelf lined with artist Sosa’s books. It emphasizes the premise for the immersive exhibit–rest is an affordance and/or a luxury (given to you by others)– but so is reading. The official title of the exhibit is Black Power Naps: La Biblioteca is Open .Although it is in the title and Sosa explains why she chose to add her books to the exhibit, the books and reading/literacy are a secondary focus of the exhibit.. My mind is mapping five  words/images here: “permission” , “unproductive”, “biblioteca”, “open”, and the books. Affordances are things given to certain people. The use of the word permission intrigued me because who is giving us permission? The artists? A utopian society that prioritizes care? Ourselves?  Second,how/why is reading/literacy unproductive? Are the artists using this capitalist vernacular ironically? Third, permission and open both suggest there is an owner to the space. Who owns this space (symbolically)? I am asking these questions because although the artists want to create a safe space for Black people and other marginalized peoples, they are not inviting us into this space whether we are their intended users or not. Even “open” is not an invitation, it is a permission to enter a space.  I am surely reading too much into this, but trying to define the terms power, precarity, and care this semester has been an exercise in mindfully thinking about the power of our words, especially abstract and vague terms that have been co-opted to ground and grow the neoliberal agenda. For example, in my project Writing Pedagogy from Compassion: A (Community) Digital Garden, I was advised to define compassion first before inviting instructors. ( But, I have other plans…will share in class).  

Speaking of words: below are musings that were a part of a private conversation that I would like to share here.

My favorite piece from this semester was the Empathy is an Ideology zine. As I think about attunement/connection building and the awareness that spaces will not accommodate all, I become more convinced of the claim in the zine. If I am reading or hearing the word empathy , I am beginning to question is empathy just another word we have co-opted like freedom and diversity in the neoliberal space that will give us the illusion of care while we cause harm? It is difficult to define these abstract concepts, but we need the space to discuss and come to some understanding/grappling of these concepts. 

Also, the idea or the expectation to not feel discomfort and/or to receive accommodation all the time is a form of entitlement that can be harmful to the individual. I wonder how much of this entitlement is embedded in our culture as New Yorkers? as Americans? I am thinking about the way immigrants assimilate and adapt to uncomfortable situations because they see their displacement as present and chosen, so they accept the consequences. This is not to say that immigrants should be harmed or that they should not be protected, but to say many immigrants accept the discomfort of being the Other as a reality. I am going off on a tangent, but the concept of entitlement—who, under what circumstances, and how much does it affect what and of whom we demand change…

In conclusion ( because I have to stop somewhere), I found the experience of going to the MoMA and the exhibit valuable in a few ways. 1) It was memorable to see many of you in person and to experience the exhibition and the AI art piece “Refik Anadol: Unsupervised” with you. 2) It was great to go to the museum after many years. 3) My daughter was able to meet and interact with a few of you, and you made her time worthwhile. Thank you! 4) The exhibit, overall , was enlightening and did its job of opening up and encouraging the conversations necessary to be had about care and rest for ourselves and our communities.  

Thank you Katina for expanding the space of our classroom and inviting us to think of care in more ways and spaces.