Mar 4, 2021
Live on Zoom
As an extension of their study exploring the Black diva as a historical figure, vocation, and archetype, 2019–20 artist in residence E. Jane invites filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary and scholar Claudrena Harold to consider the interior world of Whitney Houston. Together, they will offer alternative ways of understanding the late music icon as a gesture rooted in healing and repair.
This intimate conversation builds on years of online interactions between Jane and Gary regarding Whitney—a figure both artists hold dear—and a previous public dialogue with Jane and art critic Jessica Lynne developed with Gary and presented at BAM's screening of the 2018 documentary Whitney (dir. Kevin Macdonald). These discussions have sought to examine Houston's legacy through a queer, Black feminist lens.
This program will feature live CART captioning. RSVP to receive a Zoom link.
Holding (Space for) Nippy is presented on the occasion of This Longing Vessel: Studio Museum Artists in Residence 2019–20, held at MoMA PS1 as part of a multiyear partnership between The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of Modern Art, and MoMA PS1.
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E. Jane is an interdisciplinary artist and musician. Inspired by Black liberation and womanist praxis, their work incorporates digital images, video, text, performance, sculpture, installation, and sound design. E. Jane’s work explores safety and futurity as it relates to Black femmes, and how Black femmes navigate and negotiate space in popular culture and networked media.
Ja’Tovia Gary is an artist and filmmaker currently living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Gary’s work seeks to liberate the distorted histories through which Black life is often viewed. Through documentary film, experimental video art, and installation, Gary charts the ways structures of power shape our perceptions around representation, race, gender, sexuality, and violence.
Claudrena Harold is a professor of history at the University of Virginia. She is author of The Rise and Fall of the Garvey Movement in the Urban South, 1918–1942, New Negro Politics in the Jim Crow South, and When Sunday Comes: Gospel Music in the Soul and Hip-Hop Eras. She has also co-edited two books, Punitive Turn: New Approaches to Race and Incarceration and Charlottesville 2017: The Legacy of Race and Inequity. As a part of her ongoing work on the history of Black student activism at the University of Virginia, Claudrena has co-directed with Kevin Everson eight short films.
Recommended Reading Didn’t They Almost Have It All?: On Whitney Houston, Robyn Crawford, and The Modern Canon of Female Friendship from Believer Mag
The references run deep: Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Kandi Burruss, Summer Walker, Mary J. Blige, Tamar Braxton, Daenerys Targaryen, and Zora Neale Hurston. Be sure to take notes because, E. Jane’s knowledge, from sci-fi to R&B, is masterful. Researching and celebrating the Black diva is at the core of their work. It’s embodied. It’s about joy. It’s decolonial. It’s invested in the care and keeping of Black women’s culture.
It is E. Jane's parents who are responsible for their early education in the work of 1990s Black R&B divas. This is the source of the twenty-eight music videos at the core of Lavendra (2015–), a work composed of the eponymous planet and shrine to Black divadom presided over by E. Jane's (who uses they/them pronouns) alter ego, recording artist and Black diva in her own right, MHYSA (who uses she/her pronouns).
My mom and my dad were the people that at a young age, introduced me to the genre of R&B that is heavily reliant on women's vocals. So that meant listening to Whitney Houston and Chaka Khan and Mariah Carey—my mom played me a lot of Mariah Carey, a lot of Whitney Houston. My parents really loved Whitney Houston.
They also really loved Janet Jackson, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill. My mom had all these tapes. My mom bought me the Monica CD when I was a kid, the Brandy CD too. She bought me all these R&B diva CDs, and that was what I did in my spare time. I had a boom box when I was like nine, and I would make mixtapes. I would record songs from the radio because I had the two- tape cassette thing, and it had the CD player at the top, too. So you could really go in. I never really went in. I just recorded songs off the radio that I wanted and made my radio mixes. That music for me was very escapist; for my mom too.
Hearing the names, E. Jane rattles off; you cannot help but think. Anthems. Legends. Divas. All of them powerhouses, their music so readily at the surface of your mind. Each comes with a sharp sonic remembrance. Every song is a bop. This is not a canned '90s R&B top ten list. The Black '90s R&B diva is foundational to both Black culture and E. Jane's work.
In grad school, I was taking video classes and trying to make video art and being like, "I'm going to be like Steve McQueen. I'm going to be a video artist," and not knowing what to make a video about. I just didn't know what I cared about, but then the summer before the second year, I got really obsessed with watching old R&B music videos. I just couldn't stop, that's just what I wanted to do with my time. I was just like doing all this stuff, and I was, like, wait like this isn't a distraction, this is what I care about, and I should make from this. Then I started making Lavendra videos, and then I started thinking more about the Black diva in general as a performance archetype. A Black American archetype. An archetypal figure like how the hero is an archetypal figure. The diva, too, was an archetypal figure, and she already is in culture.
E. Jane's research looks to unpack the archetype of the diva. Divas are spectacular and display immense talent, but lost in narratives of innate gifts is the equally spectacular and immense work that has gone into their performances. For the diva, singing can be a means of mental escape, and also financial escape. Divas are a sight to behold, but are often not held or supported; they can be subject to intense critique. One of E. Jane's more recent case studies is the career of singer and songwriter Summer Walker. Walker, a direct descendent of the '90s R&B diva, has social anxiety that has caused her to cancel most of her recent tour. Fans lashed out, harshly critiquing what performances she did give. E. Jane looks to understand with empathy what the diva is going through.
There was a point when I realized that I don't want to just critique these women. I want to understand them. I want to study them. I want to study them deeply, and that's why I think MHYSA is very much deep performance, where I'm getting to study the experience through my body, but then also still reading, researching, and trying to understand the history of these people in detail. Not just an outline or a headline, since that isn't really considering them. You know?
In the second year of a multi-part collaboration, The Studio Museum in Harlem is pleased to present its annual Artist-in-Residence exhibition at MoMA PS1. This Longing Vessel features new work by the 2019–20 cohort of the Studio Museum’s foundational residency program, artists E. Jane (b. 1990, Bethesda, MD), Naudline Pierre (b. 1989, Leominster, MA), and Elliot Reed (b. 1992, Milwaukee, WI). With practices spanning new media, performance, and painting, this collaborative exhibition enacts a radical intimacy—a vessel to hold and be held by. In longing, the works shown here find the intersection between queerness and Blackness as a waypoint: one to yearn from, to reach toward, to leap beyond. This Longing Vessel troubles and excites ways of seeing, seeking new language for the building of extraordinary futures.
This Longing Vessel is organized by Legacy Russell, Associate Curator, Exhibitions, The Studio Museum in Harlem, with Yelena Keller, Curatorial Assistant, Exhibitions, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and Josephine Graf, Assistant Curator, MoMA PS1. Exhibition research is provided by Makayla Bailey and Angelique Rosales Salgado, The Studio Museum in Harlem and MoMA Curatorial Fellows, and Elana Bridges, Mellon Curatorial Fellow.
Entry to MoMA PS1 is by advance timed ticket only and capacity is limited. Tickets must be reserved online prior to entering. You may arrive any time during the one-hour window of your timed ticket. Reserve timed tickets.
MHYSA, artist E. Jane’s underground popstar diva alter ego, performs songs from her latest album, Nevaeh, on the one-year anniversary of its release. Streamed live from MoMA PS1 within a site-specific set, the performance includes accompaniment by collaborator lawd_knows along with new, projected visuals. An interview between MHYSA and curator, artist, and writer, An Duplan, concludes the program.
This performance can be viewed on MoMA.org.
MHYSA Performance is presented by MoMA PS1 in conjunction with This Longing Vessel: Studio Museum Artists in Residence 2019–20.