Jibade-Khalil Huffman is an artist working fluidly across poetry, video, photography, and installation. Fence Books has published most of his poetry—including the collections Sleeper Hold (2015) and 19 Names for Our Band (2008). Currently an artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, he will present recent works in the group show “Tenses,” which is on view there from July 14 through October 30, 2016. Huffman is also opening a solo show in Los Angeles of a newly commissioned series of works. Titled “Verse, Chorus, Verse,” this exhibition is on view at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) from June 29 through August 14, 2016.
I STARTED MAKING ART because there were things I couldn’t articulate in writing. Occasionally I would have some sort of projection in the mix while reading poetry, but then projections became primary and now I see myself as an artist who uses text. I like working with media that already exist and exploding them with poetry. If you asked in one sentence what I do, it’s that. Leveling hierarchy is also important to me, both ethically and formally. I don’t want text to ever be more important than the visual. Objecthood as it relates to language is interesting to me—how do you make language as present as objects?
At LACE there will be primarily video works. IF THIS MEANS YOU is made of found stock footage of products and commercials in one frame and then a text is on screen for one second. It cuts really fast so the viewer has to attempt to catch up and process both the visual and the written. Also on view will be You, or, RGB, or, The Color Purple, a large projection I shot with performers walking through the neighborhood of Inwood in Manhattan. The installation will also have a room you can look into through peepholes to a three-channel video projected over paintings on tablecloths that are hung as screens. When you have to move and go up to the wall and look through a hole, looking becomes less passive than it usually is, but it’s not participatory either. It’s this in-between. The show is titled “Verse, Chorus, Verse,” and there is also going to be a live performance presenting excerpts of an ongoing long-form poetry project I’m working on with Triple Canopy concerning hip-hop, music videos, race, and visibility in media.
I’ve never been in two shows that open in such quick succession. The photographs in the Studio Museum exhibition are part of my exploration of collage, painting, and photography and are made from stuff that I’ve been shooting out in the world and then bringing into Photoshop and taking them through a process of collage. I shoot six or seven photographs of the same thing, layer them, and then remove parts. Early on, I also knew I wanted to work with found windshields. I wanted to play around with the defrosting lines on them as lines, as drawing. I’m thinking about these as another kind of viewing screen. There will be wall works partly lit by some projections so there are moments where a photograph is changed by video. I’m interested in an exhibition that isn’t fixed—there might be three minutes when a part is just dark, you can’t see it, and that’s OK. In some cases you’re watching a flat-screen through a windshield, and you’re watching a video of people in a car behind a windshield behind a windshield.
This work is meant to be dark. There’s a lot of rage. I’m interested in therapy versus religion in the African American community and wanting to deal with that as a subject along with existential rage, anger, and depression—things that still aren’t really talked about in the black community. There’s more trust from an older generation in religion versus therapy. Within a black church, the pastor will often pause the sermon before it begins and say, “Congregation, turn to your neighbor, say, ‘Neighbor, God is good,’ ” or something like that. In the Studio show, there will be a screen print of a text that reads, “Turn to your neighbor, say ‘Neighbor,’ ” and it’s called Call and Response. It’s the first piece I made for this show and it’s also a reaction to a meme spawned by the Drake and Future album What a Time to Be Alive. (The meme had Future dressed up as a pastor saying, “Congregation, turn to your neighbor, say ‘Neighbor, what a time to be alive.’ ”)
What happens in this process of taking this verbal thing and not memorializing it, but fixing it, is interesting to me. If I want to make a work about police brutality and being a black man in America in 2016, there is a responsibility. Poetry allows me to be the person being attacked, the eighteen-year-old in the hoodie and the person standing outside of that. Writing provides me with the ability to slip in and out of different registers and that is ultimately why I’m working the way I do.