Never Free to Rest
by Rashaun Rucker
September 13 - October 15, 2021
Special Viewing: Rashaun Rucker in Conversation with curator Amanda Krugliak
September 22, 2021
Gallery opens at 6:30pm, Conversation begins at 7pm
Institute for the Humanities Gallery, 202 S. Thayer
free and open to the public
Made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
1. To assign to a particular category or class, especially in a manner that is too rigid or exclusive.
Synonyms: categorize, classify, label, typecast, ghettoize
Never Free to Rest compares the life and origins of the rock pigeon to the stereotypes and myths of the constructed identities of Black men in the United States of America.
My practice serves as an archive of Black culture as it intersects with myths and realities. As source material for my drawings, I utilize images of men I know and photographs of men incarcerated in the United States prison industrial complex. The photographs of those incarcerated are taken from various websites and newsletters and then collaged or altered to create the work. The work is intended to be a record of their lives, a marker of the social conditioning and heavy challenges we face as Black men. The exhibition is influenced by the inescapable thoughts and words of friends lost: those who were incarcerated, those who believed there was no way out—that they had been permanently assigned to the bottom of America’s caste system even though their talents were immense and so often appropriated.
Pigeons are similar to how many people see Black men in society: individuals that populate urban landscapes and live off assistance (i.e. the system) and viewed as vermin by some.
Although pigeons have a long history with humans, it’s nearly impossible to identify their original habitat. Europeans brought pigeons to North America in the 1600s, around the same time as the inception of the transatlantic slave trade in the United States.
Displaced from their natural environment, and without a migration gene to guide them, the birds adapted to their circumstances and the environments imposed upon them. Within months, their location is permanently imprinted in their minds as being home. Much like the pigeons, Black people were taken from their place of foundation and assigned a station in society within the colonized Western Hemisphere.
My work intends to communicate how the environment we have been placed in as Black people, created by generational systemic oppressions, becomes a reluctant contentment rather than a fleeting station—the “why” of “Black men often don’t fly” (achieve)—even though we can fly beyond these constructed circumstances.
Never Free to Rest explores the belief that we as Black men are only permitted in certain designed or designated spaces based upon these same racial stereotypes, to occupy prisons like pigeons in coops.
It is my hope that the exhibition provides an incubator for intergenerational conversations between Black men and boys, giving them a safe space to discuss these ongoing issues among themselves.
Notes from the Curator
I’m struggling with the words on the wall--
What words can possibly do justice.
What comes next...to be continued…
It’s more about the Breaking than picking up where we left off,
All in pieces on the floor,
And no quick fix.
Let’s just start...deconstruct it, create a new order of things, begin again, undo, unravel, dismantle, haul in the wrecking ball.
Wreak havoc, whack it with a mallet, wield the hammer and crack it wide open, take it down.
Rashaun Rucker’s exhibition Never Free to Rest, represents the last works in his remarkable ornithology series that explores the rock pigeon as metaphor for the systemic debasement, mistreatment and conditioning of Black men in America. Each drawing serves as a record, a myriad of marks, as if keeping time.
In addition to four new drawings, the exhibition also includes two inaugural sculptural works designed by the artist and fabricated as part of his Institute for the Humanities residency. The hand-cast etched edition I Hit More Than I Miss replicates a portrait by Rucker, half pigeon/half man, on oversized “Clay Pigeons,” the blaze orange discs typically used for target practice.
As a performative element of the installation process, the artist willfully breaks three times as many discs as he displays. The pieces soon accumulate on the floor like rubble. There is the sound like a shot each time a disc hits the ground with the undeniable force of gravity.
The work is as much about the breaking as the making..broken systems, promises, dreams.
...Also, at a time when Black artists and their works are in high demand, the project leads to hard questions.
How can white institutions, curators, galleries, and collectors act responsibly beyond words and good intentions? How do we break the cycle of appropriation and commodification? How do we abolish the long held practice of ventriloquism?
–Amanda Krugliak, arts curator