When you lift the manholes in New York’s Meatpacking District, you may hear the trickle of the historic Minetta Stream, a now underground waterway whose adjacent footpath was once called “the old negroes’ causeway” as it marked a trail worn by “partially freed” African Americans in the 1600s, those who owned the nearby farms but were required to pay a fee. Down the road was the Black National Theater, the first free schoolhouse for African Americans and a cluster of Black and Tan saloons serving up booze and community for people of color. There’s a rich history of Blackness in the neighborhood that has carried over to an inner sanctum of Black creatives gathering at social club Soho House, building their careers. Now, seven of those talents—Nadia Nascimento, Larry Ossei-Mensah, Carolyn “CC” Concepcion, Isis Arias, Melle Hock, Jane Aiello and Danny Baez—have founded new collective ARTNOIR to center artists of color, narratives that highlight the Black perspective and forgotten Black histories.
Artnoir began in 2013 as a group of New York friends attending exhibits and art events together. This month, in partnership with Meatpacking BID, the collective launched with a variety of exhibitions, happenings and installations centering the rich Black history rooted in New York’s Meatpacking District.
Inspired by the relationship between geography and lineage, ARTNOIR’s five part production, From a Place, of a Place, channels the absolute truth that Black lives have always, do and will matter. Playing with the concept of placemaking, the cultural launch spans visual performances to community programming and launched August 12. The Meatpacking District has “always been buzzing with Black energy. But those stories must be reclaimed,” says Nascimento. “We hold the past in equal recognition as we create a Black Future.”
ARTNOIR kicked off their launch at the collective’s 2 Gansevoort gallery with a show of 20 emerging Black artists—four of whom were selected through public submission—curated by Danny Báez of REGULARNORMAL. Aptly called “The Meeting Point,” the pieces in the exhibition are conceptually synonymous with what Báez coins “the spirit of a cipher”—a reference to the freestyle circle of hip hop culture. From Daphne Arthur’s smoke on paper footprints that seem to juxtapose resilience and confinement to the checkerboard literary collages of Kevin Claiborne, the work of these artists stands on its own while informing a larger story around Black liberation, mindful gathering and permanence.
The exhibit speaks to the production’s overall theme: “the interplay between geography and identity is where the Black community holds its unique power,” Nascimento explains. As part of Báez’s curation, he selected two “The Meeting Point” artists for a five week residency that includes ARTNOIR council and a financial stipend. The first selected artist, Drew Weech, was recently announced.
In tandem, Nigerian artist and architect Olalekan Jeyifous has erected a large-scale sculpture, WHENEVER/WHEREVER, curated by Oshun Layne. Jeyifous built his piece with a focus on specific spaces where Black folks gather. Marrying the physicality of stoops, stairwells and porches with colors linked to traditional African and African American textiles, Jeyifous hopes his work can be a landing place for joy. “Its very presence,” Nascimento shares, “asks us to look closer at the ground we are standing on and opens a world of possibilities on how and why we gather.”
Thus far it has been a platform for musicians and dancers and will be the setting of a series of live performances in the coming weeks called “Visions in Motion.” Focused on the history of sound through a Black lens, the series was produced by Dario Calmese, the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of Vanity Fair, capturing Viola Davis.
For perhaps the most intimate part of the installation, ARTNOIR pieced together interviews of longtime Meatpacking residents in partnership with nonprofit Hudson Guild and Westbeth Artist Housing so that those meandering through Gansevoort Plaza can physically listen to the area’s history by snapping any QR code nearby. These untold stories will serve as an official neighborhood guide that will eventually manifest as a zine alongside stunning portraits of these residents by Black-led creative studio Paper Monday.
What is most beautiful about ARTNOIR’s creation is its celebration of Black joy by Black people. The self-prescribed family is working on their 100-year plan—raising their children in a community that intersects identity, happiness and art through the Black lens, and, ultimately, ensuring their Minetta Streams don’t get paved over. As Nascimento proudly asserts, “We’re always going to fucking be here.”
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