Kamari Carter: Dark Blue, Almost Black, at SPACES

Installation view, Kamari Carter, Dark Blue Almost Black, featuring Event Horizon. Aja Joi Grant photo.

Kamari Carter is a New York based multidisciplinary artist, with his latest exhibition, Dark Blue, Almost Black on view at SPACES gallery until May 10. Carter uses a minimalist, multimedia approach to tackle topics regarding Americentrism, policing, and identity through text, imagery, sound and wall work. His presentations and curatorial framework encourage the audience to reflect on what they experience within the gallery walls, but also within society. The works all have a tangible effect, using multiple senses to experience the work and facilitate conversations about what’s next, what can and will this work make us do next, feel next.

The centerpiece of the show, Event Horizon, consists of 10 black megaphones, all equally spaced and neatly installed along the longest wall. They are all playing real time police scanner audio from 10 different cities in the U.S., that are all experiencing violence against Black Americans at the hands of police.

This installation showcases the harmful ways the police interact with the Black community, at the current moment. The viewer experiences it: the over-policing is directly in front of you, playing out. The installation also highlights the ways the community counteracts this issue, how people make their voices heard and fight back.

“When conceptualizing this orientation, when it comes to the iconography of protest, megaphones are a clear tool used to herd people in positive and negative ways,” Carter says.

It is meant to be as visually stirring as it is auditorily, and the choice of using the megaphones is definitely meaningful as someone who has been at many a protest, and used their own voice & frustration as a megaphone.

“The work is all about triangulating these streams that are continuously going, and another thought with this is that once you leave the gallery, these constant streams of police scanners never stop. The conversations of targeting neighborhoods, the name calling, the assumptions and predetermined judgements never stop. Although a viewer’s engagement with the exhibition may be short, and the exhibition itself is temporary, the policing doesn’t cease.”

Carter utilizes the orientation of sequential works often in this show, pairing works together to amplify their impact and reflection. Remembering and Forgetting, both monochrome paintings with VHS tape adorned on top, really tie the whole show together. Seeing them upon entering and exiting the gallery space is like the cherry on top of the exhibition. Remembering is the black monochrome painting, and Forgetting is the dark blue painting. The VHS tape is reprocessed childhood videos, Carter’s method of quietly and covertly placing himself in the work, in an obfuscated way. Obfuscation is another strong theme in this show, almost like a nod to pentimento methods in painting where things are purposely covered, to facilitate investigation from the viewer. In Remembering, Carter used his knowledge of art history and the significance of the black monochrome, coupled with the memory of #BlackOutTuesday in 2020, where social media users took collective action to protest police brutality.

“Thinking about the color black, and the black monochrome as a sign of blackness, and by extension black death, I wanted to mirror that in this show without using visual trauma,” says Carter.

That is something I commended Kamari for in the beginning of our conversation–the fact that he has such a distinct, intentional, and well-rounded approach to a topic that can be traumatizing for black audiences. As a black person, it is relieving, and refreshing to view a show centered around the violence of the carceral state without being inundated with violent imagery against black bodies.

In the paired work Forgetting, Carter states he was thinking of the “thin blue line” slogan that arose as a counter protest to “Black Lives Matter”, and the metacognition, memory, and processing that ties in the message of the overall themes within this exhibition.  Both of these works also tie in the title of the show, placing these two colors and what they represent side by side.

Kamari Carter, Oath of Honor (first print). Aja Joi Grant photo.

One of my favorite parts of this show was a series of five text-based works, titled Oath of Honor. These prints were made during Carter’s residency, at Zygote Press. The works all feature an example of a quote that an officer may recite when taking a position as a police officer. The first print in the series features the whole quote, and the last one is completely blacked out, the work again questioning themes of obfuscation like in Remembering. The remaining three feature varying versions of this quote, in the style of black out poetry.

“It’s this kind of fluffy language that says a lot, and nothing at the same time” says Carter about the full quote.

He was inspired by another artist’s rendition of this style of manipulating words within a quote to reveal new arrangements within the original.

“What kind of clandestine or obfuscated things are made more clear, when I take away some of the language that seems intentionally pontificating? What is it actually saying?” says Carter.

I particularly enjoyed this work for the play of language, especially when many individuals’ experience with legal terms and language associated with the carceral state are confusing, seemingly on purpose, almost intentionally unclear–which is why lawyers are needed to decipher and law is studied so heavily and intensely. He is pulling out the true meaning of words meant to be placating and personable to the public, peeling back the layers to reveal what most black folks agree is the underlying message. I would put one of the quotes in here but I don’t want to spoil it, go view the work to see what I mean.

Kamari Carter, Untitled (Equal Parts). Aja Joi Grant photo.

Untitled (Equal Parts) which depicts the American Flag & Untitled (Equal Spaces) depicting The Vice President Flag made me think of conformity, assimilation and the restraints of “The American Dream” within history and in our present moment. You see fractions of a measurement labeled for spacing, angles of elements and borders.

Kamari Carter, Untitled (Equal Spaces). Aja Joi Grant photo.

“It’s particularly interesting that it sort of looks like the Vitruvian man, like a Da Vinci-esque figure, and also that the word “equal” is used to describe spacing.” says Carter. “It’s interesting to think that this symbol, that has to be done with all this equality in mind in the formation, but the same symbol is not presented to people that it is supposed to represent, with equality.” Both prints show a blueprint-like diagram of both flags, showing the precise measurements required to make the flags properly. Carter drew from the executive order that was signed into place by Eisenhower, outlining these measurements as standard for the production of these flags.

“I was thinking about the American flag and Americentrism, and when thinking about those concepts mapped onto policing, I just think about how so many of these issues with police brutality and misconduct so commonly feel like they cannot be detached from America.”

Misdirection 1, a short film featuring several different clips of body cam footage, continuously plays in a loop in a corner of the gallery. After you watch for awhile, you notice the common occurrence of the body camera being blocked or covered every so often. Carter’s editorial style in this is speaking to transparency (or lack thereof) when it comes to body cam footage, and obfuscation as a theme in the show, and also in policing when using this technology. In cases of police brutality, it is not uncommon for body cameras to be coincidentally turned off, or the footage simply not made public when it would seem necessary to determine if excessive force was used.

“Each time the body cam is covered, whether obstructed by movement or turned on/off, it transitions to the next scene.” says Carter

Seeing this work made me immediately think of protesting in 2014, right after Tamir Rice was killed in the Cudell neighborhood, and the main protest demand in Cleveland and nationwide was the immediate implementation of body cams on police officers.

It made me wonder what progress has been made since the cameras have been implemented, and the fact that they have not brought on the accountability that we hoped for. Oftentimes body cam footage is either withheld by the police department for weeks after an incident, or when it is shown, qualified immunity protects officers from any type of punishment beyond paid leave.

Carter’s work is centered around facilitating deep thought, reflection, and world building. Many of his motivations are from a place of desire for a better world, and for discussions of improvement and reform to be continuous, not only when we are grieving the loss of another name, and their hashtags are freshly circulating.

Carter’s intentionality with a minimalist presentation speaks volumes, as the work holds weight with simplicity, in just being and existing as art and honoring the art of holding one’s attention beyond first glance. Nothing is over explained, or oversimplified: it trusts the audience to feel its meaning, and all the pieces weave together in a complete tapestry. The narrative holds in the wash, the more I spoke with Carter, the more his intentions shined through the work, and I saw the mastery in his storytelling.

Kamari Carter: Dark Blue, Almost Black

March 29 – May 10, 2024

SPACES Gallery

2900 Detroit Avenue

Cleveland, Ohio 44113

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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