Saturday, November 20 —
10am - 9pm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Ave
New York, NY 10028
Before Yesterday We Could Fly at the Met
via Art Net News
“Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room,” now open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is a different kind of period room and a conceptual intervention. The Met teamed up with Oscar-winning production designer Hannah Beachler, whose credits include Black Panther, and Michelle Commander, the associate director and curator at NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, to push the boundaries of the genre by taking inspiration from Afrofuturism. Overall, the concept of Afrofuturism speculates on a future in which Black people are thriving beyond the wildest dreams of ancestors.
To root the exhibition in the reality of specific historical erasure, the curators created a space that embraces the memory of Seneca Village, a vibrant nineteenth-century community of predominantly Black landowners and tenants that flourished in an area just west of The Met, in what is now Central Park. By the 1850s, the village comprised some fifty homes, three churches, multiple cemeteries, a school, and many gardens. It represented both an escape from the crowded and dangerous confines of lower Manhattan and a site of opportunity, ownership, freedom, and prosperity. In 1857, to make way for the park, the city used eminent domain to seize Seneca Village land, displacing its residents and leaving only the barest traces of the community behind.
While the real estate is cramped compared with the Met’s traditional period rooms, the setup works considering that the intention behind this project is also far less grandiose. Instead of fine silver and gilded portraits, the artworks here are inspired by (rather than artifacts excavated from) Seneca Village, as well as objects in circulation at the time of the arrival of Africans to this land.
The title, Before Yesterday We Could Fly, is inspired by Virginia Hamilton‘s legendary retellings of the Flying African tale, which celebrates enslaved peoples’ imagination, creative uses of flight, and the significance of spirituality and mysticism to Black communities in the midst of great uncertainty. Before Yesterday We Could Fly also celebrates a number of new acquisitions made specifically for the project and is animated by exciting commissions from Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Fabiola Jean-Louis, and Jenn Nkiru.
The exhibit is free with a museum ticket. Plan your next visit here.
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