(Video, Photography, Painting, Sculpture, Archival Documents)
Cohen Library Archives Gallery
Where Straight Lines Fail is an interdiscursive installation which draws upon historical texts, sociological conventions, postmodern theory, and postcolonial studies around opacity and hybridity, to disrupt conventional assumptions around racial passing, or “passing”. It is derived from the lost histories of Bengali sailors (traced by Vivek Bald in his 2013 book, Bengali Harlem) who passed as Black in the early twentieth century to circumvent laws against Asian immigration in the United States. Where Straight Lines Fail is located between history and storytelling. It considers the role of the contemporary diasporic artist in making visible alternate histories as a disruption of official, binary driven distinctions between Black and White, desirable and criminal.
The metaphor of dazzle camouflage––painted on British ships in World War I to evade German U-Boats––is employed in the installation to highlight similarities between official and individual tactics of passing or camouflage for survival. Amongst the individual stories of passing that we encounter here, is a Bengali sailor’s son who lived as a Black jazz musician, a light-skinned African American man who found success as an Indian mystic and a modernist sculpture repurposed as a planter.