Philadelphia

Zalika Azim, Until these calamities be overpast, 2018, digital C-print, 20 × 30". From “In Conversation: Visual Meditations on Black Masculinity.”

Zalika Azim, Until these calamities be overpast, 2018, digital C-print, 20 × 30". From “In Conversation: Visual Meditations on Black Masculinity.”

“In Conversation: Visual Meditations on Black Masculinity”

African American Museum in Philadelphia

Recently, my five-year-old asked, “What is an ancestor?” This triggered a crisis of middle-aged forgetting. I have no memory of not knowing about slavery, so how little could I possibly have been when I learned not only that chattel slavery had once existed in the Americas, but that the cockamamie-sounding truth had to do with me? “Your ancestors were stolen from their homes, taken across the Atlantic Ocean, and sold as things,” I will tell my son soon.

So when I climbed the ramp of the African American Museum in Philadelphia to see “In Conversation: Visual Meditations on Black Masculinity,” I was really troubled by thoughts of having to put this heaviness on my boy, and I wasn’t prepared for the thing that Walter Benjamin says happens to happen: A memory of moving through that museum’s galleries when I was four “flashed up”—a displaced voice saying, through those old trumpet-shaped speakers,

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