Mendi + Keith Obadike: Blues Speaker [for James Baldwin]

The Year of James Baldwin -- Exhibition Wed 1 Apr 2015 - Thu 30 Apr 2015 The New School University Center (throughout building)
63 Fifth Avenue, Dialogues at Social Justice Hub (5th floor)
New York City


Co-commissioned and co-presented in partnership with Harlem Stage.
Blues Speaker [for James Baldwin] is a public sound art installation dedicated to writer and public intellectual James Baldwin (1924-1987). For Baldwin sound, music, and the blues in particular were sources of inspiration. The multichannel sound art work meditates on a politics of listening found at the intersection of Baldwinʼs language and the sound worlds invoked in his work. It uses the glass façade of The New School's University Center as delivery system for the sound, turning the building itself into a speaker. The 12-hour piece is created using slow moving harmonies, melodicized language from Baldwinʼs writings, ambient recordings from the streets of Harlem, and an inventory of sounds contained in Baldwin's story "Sonnyʼs Blues." Please join us for an opening celebration on April 2, from 5-7 pm in the Social Justice Hub, remarks will be made by LeRonn Brooks.

Blues Speaker -- Dialogues
Blues Speaker celebrates James Baldwin's keen understanding of the social role of the blues. In his important 1957 short story "Sonny's Blues," the writer argued that attending to the blues required 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), and seek beauty and understanding. If this relationship to listening is specific to the blues -- a form that takes its shape in response to the survival of black people in general 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 that medium. To examine this proposition, the artists have invited several musicians who work with the blues to read the story "Sonny's Blues" on Fridays at noon during the month of April.

Dialogues -- Schedule
April 10: Melvin Gibbs
April 17: Brandon Ross
April 24: Karma Mayet Johnson

Blues Speaker -- Related Events

Artist Talk and Student Conversation - Friday, April 17th, 3-5 pm
Mendi + Keith speak with students and the public about their work.

Taking Listening Seriously: James Baldwin - Friday, April 24th, 4-5:30 pm
Part of the "What Now? The Politics of Listening" conference, Mendi + Keith participate in a panel discussion with Rich Blint, moderated by Julie Napolin

This event 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.

Special thanks to the New School Facilities Management team, the Department of Public Programs and the University Social Justice Committee for their tremendous support.

Mendi + Keith Obadike are interdisciplinary artists who make art, music, and literature. Their intermedia work has been commissioned by The NY African Film Festival and Electronic Arts Intermix, Rhizome/The New Museum, Yale University, Whitechapel Art Gallery (London), and The Whitney Museum of American Art, among other institutions. Their major works include the sound installation American Cypher; the sound installation African Metropole; The Sour Thunder, an Internet Opera (Yale/Bridge Records); Crosstalk: American Speech Music (Bridge Records); Black.Net.Art Actions, a suite of new media artworks including Blackness for Sale (republished in re:skin on M.I.T Press); Phonotype (Ramapo), a book & CD of media artworks; and a poetry collection, Armor and Flesh (Lotus Press). They have contributed sounds/music to projects by a wide range of artists, including loops for soul singer D'Angelo's first album and a score for playwright Anna Deavere Smith at the Lincoln Center Institute. Mendi + Keith Obadike were invited to develop their first "opera-masquerade" by writer Toni Morrison at her Princeton Atelier. This project, Four Electric Ghosts, was later commissioned by the Kitchen and listed in Artforum's Best of the Year. Other honors include the Rockefeller New Media Arts Fellowship, the Pick Laudati Award for Digital Art, the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and the Vectors Fellowship from USC. Their music and sound works have been featured on New York and Chicago public radio, as well as on Juniradio (104.5) in Berlin.
Keith Obadike received a BA in Art from North Carolina Central University and an MFA in Sound Design from Yale University. He is Associate Professor in the College of Arts and Communication at William Paterson University and serves as an art advisor for the Times Square Alliance. Mendi Obadike received a BA in English from Spelman College and a PhD in Literature from Duke University. After working as a Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton University, she became a poetry editor at Fence magazine and Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Media Studies at Pratt Institute. Their upcoming projects include a collaboration with Urban Bushwomen on their new work Walking with Trane and a commissioned series of public artworks in the city of Chicago created from the archives of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College to complete Mendi + Keith Obadike's third American History Intermedia Suite, Free Phase.