“Museum as Hub: Alpha’s Bet Is Not Over Yet” is an exhibition, reading room, and discussion space inspired by the energy and politics of radical, independent Black periodicals published during the first half of the twentieth century. Borne out of “Book Club” (2010), a think tank and reading group organized by artists Steffani Jemison and Jamal Cyrus for Project Row Houses, Houston, “Alpha’s Bet” investigates approaches to language, the written word, self-education, and democratic distributions of knowledge. The project draws upon two hundred years of dialogues that span the spiritual, pedagogic, visionary, and populist. These perspectives are reflected in the exhibition’s title that paraphrases theorist and artist Rammellzee (1960-2010), who argued that language as a social agreement is not a passive vessel or known quantity but rather possesses the potential to reimagine structures of power.
The centerpiece of the project is an interactive newsstand display featuring complete reproductions of more than 500 issues of Black periodicals published between 1902 and 1940, including The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races; The Messenger: World’s Greatest Negro Monthly; Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life; and The Crusader. The installation is designed to encourage browsing of the materials and provides space for both concentrated reading and conversation.
Expanding upon ideas explored in the periodicals on display, Jemison and Cyrus have invited artists to create posters inspired by the American Library Association’s READ campaign. Contributing artists include: Regina Agu, Firelei Báez, Jamal Cyrus, Nathaniel Donnett, Chitra Ganesh, Tia-Simone Gardner, Steffani Jemison, Nikki Pressley, Robert Pruitt and Autumn Knight, Bobby Ray, Martine Syms, and Ginger Brooks Takahashi. These posters are joined by a collection of contemporary chapbooks, zones, and self published volumes, which explore the potential of the publication form today, offering perspectives by: Terry Adkins, Adebukola Bodunrin, Nsenga Knight, David Leggett, Eliza Myrie, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Mitchell Squire, Martine Syms, Greg Tate, and LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs.
As part of the exhibition, Jemison and Cyrus have invited artists and writers to read selections in the gallery on October 20, November 10, November 17, and December 1, during the New Museum’s free Thursday evenings. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to suggest passages from the presented materials for public readings.
The project is accompanied by an illustrated publication that borrows the form of a reader—a compendium of essays, interviews, and selections from the periodicals and posters on display. Edited by Steffani Jemison and designed by Nikki Presley, The Reader includes contributions from Adebukola Bodunrin, Jamal Cyrus, Egie Ighile, Mitchell Jackson, Steffani Jemison, Ryan Inouye, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts/The Freedwoman’s Bureau, Ethan Swan, and Greg Tate.
“Museum as Hub: Steffani Jemison and Jamal Cyrus: Alpha’s Bet Is Not Over Yet!” is co-organized by Ryan Inouye, Curatorial Assistant and Ethan Swan, Education Associate.