“You broke my heart
‘Cause I couldn’t dance
You didn’t even want me around
And now I’m back
To let you know”
I can really shake ’em down
– The Contours, “Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)” (1962)
If the present looks like the past, what does the future look like? Media, with their obligations to simultaneously inform and entertain, oftentimes blur and create mixed messages depending on the audience, which can lead to prejudice. With this in mind, Jibade-Khalil Huffman — a poet, visual artist, and Black man — depicts life through his own lens, merging video, performance, contemporary, and photography through densely layered imagery and shapes, fast-paced editing, and references that span decades in time. His latest collection of work, showcased at Tufts University Art Gallery, is titled “Now That I Can Dance,” honoring the classic 1962 track from The Contours. When re-examining the lyrics 60 years after they were written, you notice their true message, belying a salient question of the state of our current relationship with the media. Beneath the lights, personalities, and catchy beats, what themes are we casting upon society about ourselves and others?
Upon entering the exhibition, the walls of the first half of the room are covered with inkjet prints mixed with different references, from old TV Guide sections for Dance Card [“Dance Card, or How to Say Anger When You Lose Control” (2017)] to comedian Paul Mooney [“Picture for Paul Mooney (Everybody Wants/Nobody Wants)” (2018)]. Here, Huffman intentionally zooms in on specific themes, particularly the media’s portrayal of the Black community and the impact that can have on one’s identity. One portion of the exhibit that struck me personally was “Stations” (2019) (created with fellow artist Anat Egbi) for its vibrant colors and provoking imagery. When I saw this piece, I thought of two things: the maps at MBTA stations with dots signifying different locations, and subpixels that create the colors seen on TV.
The second half of the room was separated by a wall that had videos on both sides. One video, “Poems for Every Occasion” (2018) is a list poem that Huffman merged with specific sounds and images that illustrate and undercut the “occasions” mentioned. Another wall hosts images of his sculpture dedicated to Morgan Parker (“There are more Things to Love than Beyonce, Magical Negro”), which encapsulates their similarities of expression through pop culture references. Then there was “Zero” (2019-20) which was a meticulous production of references to media and culture, spanning 40 years. Multiple reversed clips and scenes of car crashes, altercations, near misses, and explosions challenge the viewer to examine the absence of emotional and psychological thought regarding the traumatic videos we consume on our phones and computers nearly every day.
This virtual tour has more to offer and I recommend attending if you enjoy being challenged by the art you consume. Some of my favorites include…
– “The Circle” (2020), (single channel video, sound color, folding chairs): This piece explores the trauma caused by media and how self-created coping mechanisms are born to combat those triggers. Developed in spring/summer 2020, the collection of poetry vignettes depict the trauma, personally and nationally, from the past eight months during the pandemic and recent racial tensions.
– “The Mirror” (2017), (transparencies, die-cut plexiglass, flatscreen monitor, powdered coated metal frame, looping video): I really liked the colors and its portrayal of mirrors, reflecting on themes that highlight the early 80s and the variety of masculinity. Legendary Lou Rawls is the centerpiece, mixed with a video collage that plays scenes from an iconic
‘70s sitcom, Sanford and Son.
– “Stanza” (2016), (single channel video, color, sound): This piece combines past and present footage of American artist Marisa Williamson. Pastel shapes and quotidian gestures blur the lines of spatial and temporal logic of what we expect from TV and film while challenging us to focus on new, less obvious indicators of meaning.
Huffman’s work toggles between mass media depictions of life and representation. The juxtaposition highlights the differences between content made for someone and made by someone. Additionally, Huffman has keen perspectives of his world as a Black man in America, highlighted with an impulsive nature to remix his observations and challenge the underlying tension between race and visibility in an image-saturated landscape. His work rings true to the digital world’s density and intensity of information, including love, no matter how well you can dance…
You can view the exhibit virtually via the Tufts University Art Gallery website.