March 25, 2015

Mendi + Keith ObadikeBlues Speaker [for James Baldwin]

Vera List Center for Art and Politics

Mendi + Keith Obadike, Blues Speaker Study #1, 2015. Courtesy the artists.

Blues Speaker [for James Baldwin] is a public sound art installation and reading series by artists Mendi + Keith Obadike, presented on the occasion of the conference “What Now? The Politics of Listening.” It is dedicated to writer and public intellectual James Baldwin (1924–1987) who explored a politics of listening across many of his works and was keenly aware of the social role of blues. The 12-hour, immersive sound artwork quietly resonates within the glass façade of the University Center, transforming the building itself into a speaker for its slow moving harmonies, melodicized language from Baldwinʼs writings. It is composed of an elongated blues melody, language from Baldwin’s writings, ambient recordings from the streets of Harlem, and an inventory of sounds contained in Baldwin’s short story “Sonnyʼs Blues.”

Blues Speaker / The Dialogues
Weekly readings by master blues musicians capture Baldwin’s seminal short story “Sonny’s Blues.” Presented on Fridays at noon in the Social Justice Hub at 63 Fifth Avenue, 5th floor, they reflect on what Baldwin argued for, that attending to the blues requires the listener to confront and accept both literal noise (sounds beyond the listener’s understanding) and ideological noise (elements of the lives of those whose journeys have taken radically different paths). If this relationship to listening is specific to the blues—a form that takes its shape in response to the survival of black people and to the decisions of its craftspeople—then musicians who seriously engage the blues must hold a knowledge deeply important for humanity that lives in the music and extends beyond. To examine this proposition, the artists are inviting Melvin Gibbs, Karma Mayet Johnson, and Brandon Ross to read the story “Sonny’s Blues.”


Blues Speaker / other events

April 17, 3–5pm
Mendi + Keith Obadike engage in an artists talk with students and the public.


April 24, 2–4pm
“Taking Listening Seriously: James Baldwin”
Panel discussion on literal and ideological noise, race, class and inequality that positions James Baldwin as a key figure in the history of political sound making, and launches the conference “What Now? The Politics of Listening.” With curators, scholars and artists Mendi + Keith Obadike, moderated by Julie Napolin.

Blues Speaker [for James Baldwin] is part of the year-long, city-wide celebration The Year of James Baldwin, which is presented in partnership with Harlem Stage, Columbia University School of the Arts and New York Live Arts, and in collaboration with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, the School of Media Studies, and the School of Writing at The New School. It is a featured program of the conference “What Now? The Politics of Listening,” presented on April 24 and 25 by Art in General, in collaboration with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics.

For further information, visit our website.

Thank you!

An email with a confirmation link has been sent to the email address you entered. To complete your subscription, click this link.