Kasem Kydd—Was, Is, An Eclipse
I will be continually asking: what is a vessel, a ship, a cruise, or an act of trans/fer?[i]
Kasem Kydd, 2018
How can we archive something that is ongoing and that we carry within us simultaneously? If we think of the body as a ship you can imagine anything can be in the hold. The body is the ship. Where is the body? What are the conditions of the body? What comes from its hold? This can be thought of in a positive way and in a negative way: I am carrying these ‘archival’ pieces within me—they are from the past, they are also in the present, and they also have yet to happen. How can we reimagine what archives look like and what memorialization looks like and what the hold of the ship means to us? …I want to give myself the option of holding the archives from my ship, in and outside of me at the same time.[ii]
Kasem Kydd, 2020
The Cambridge School of Weston is proud, excited and honored to exhibit one of its own graduates, Kasem Kydd, CSW 2014. Kasem Kydd—Was, Is, An Eclipse is the third and final show in the About Vulnerability exhibition series. Due to the present global situation, this exhibition is presented to our community six months after its intended opening date in April of this year.
During the spring months as we were unsure of how to move forward with mounting this show, the horrific and public death of George Floyd galvanized not only the Black Lives Matter movement, but the United States of America as a nation, among many other nations. America is finally recognizing and acknowledging the impact of white supremacy and systemic racism in open dialogue. Thus, at the close of our About Vulnerability series, “whiteness” is finally looking at itself. And while not everyone is looking in the mirror, enough people are talking and working to initiate change, and recognize the need to address systemic racism and other forms of oppression in our society.
Not before now could many white Americans cast away their fragility and tears that would otherwise prevent the current discourse. There is a lot of work yet to do. The global COVID-19 crisis has forced us to slow down, reflect on our values, and face the reality of existing inequities in our society.
The planet is undergoing big changes, humans having effectively changed the world’s climate, species are passing away into oblivion, our capitalist culture is imploding and we are forced to make hard choices regarding the maintenance of individual sustenance versus cultural economy. We are on the brink of our own demise for our own selfishness and arrogance. Working for change is more than a noble cause these days; it is necessarily unavoidable work that needs attentive actions.
Within this larger context, we all are asking questions about who we are, and how shall we move forward. Kasem Kydd is an artist who regularly raises questions of identity, familial roots, memory, traditional black sound, cultural traditions and the contextual manifestations of these. Though visitors to the gallery will undoubtedly look at the work from a view to place the work within a society plagued by systemic racism, the show is not a direct examination of white supremacy. As Kydd points out to us, “It’s not about white responsibility. I don’t have any interests in doing any educating of white folks or any holding of responsibility for them; that’s not my job.
To me, the most important things to be centered in any conversation (especially around race), are black trans women and black trans men, reparations, and abolishing the structures of white settler colonialism. This includes police and prison reform, ICE, giving land back to native peoples, and reimagining the structures of the art world and other cultural institutions.[iv]
Kydd’s work encourages us to broaden the conversation. Since 2015, there have been more than 130 deaths of transgender or gender non-conforming people in the U.S. due to fatal violence.[v] The conversation, as Kydd points out, needs to broaden and become more intersectional. Was, Is, An Eclipse provides audiences with opportunities to imagine the marginalized individual, the in-between state, and the threshold of transformation that is possible in a culturally complex moment in time.
Kasem Kydd’s parents came to the US in the 1980s from Bequia. Kydd is a first-generation American (b. Jamaica, NY), currently living in Chicago, IL. Kydd is a trans and non-binary visual artist and earned their BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 2018, concentrating on performance, video, and sculpture, history, and African American study studies. "My work explores and critiques issues at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, geological time, science fiction, astronomy, and space/time travel.”[vi] When Kydd was a student at CSW, they were known for making self-portraits, two of which are on view on the gallery’s east wall. Their current work is an extension of Kydd’s inquiry into self.
Much of the work in Was, Is, An Eclipse was made on the premises. Visitors to the gallery will notice repeated motifs, images and references as well as the consistent use of particular materials in the work installed in the space. Each of these elements in Kydd’s work are part of a personal iconography that support their personal inquiry, but the viewer too is prompted to ask: “what is a vessel” and “what does it hold?”
Visitors are confronted by a large corner projection of a large, undisclosed body of water, centrally located and flanked by an installation that straddles the southwest and northeast corners of the gallery space. Considered as an ensemble these separate but related works are an abstraction of a ship. The overall installation poetically but soberingly raises questions about it’s ersatz construction, the weight and function of it’s materiality, and the personal recollections enfolded in each work. In his amalgamated work, Kydd seeks cross-temporal possibilities:
I explore and interrogate the intersection of black time, queer time, and geological time with the intention to create artifacts of black maritime life. My work explores the implications of water in black social life, and that water functions as a link in describing a non-linear existence in time as a black person living in a settler society. I'm interested in describing remnants of my trans body as archival discoveries from the future, present, and past. I am invested in rewriting histories and futures and inserting the black person's narratives, even if it has yet to come to pass. I am inscribing these futures and histories into objects, videos, sounds, and performances to create my own archive.[vii]
Kydd's use of metaphor allows for viewers to consider and combine the past and the future, while leaving a lasting impression that anchors their practice in the present moment. At the heart of Kydd’s work is a deep call for individual as witness—what is carried with them, with you, and with us culturally? Was, Is, An Eclipse raises a questions that can be at once be perplexing, and sobering, but also grounding, disarming, hopeful and activating.
I am making vessels and archives of liberation and loss that are wholly about blackness, black sound, possible futures of black liberation. I am seeking out acts of trans/ference. For my purposes, the ship can function as a vessel of capture, a vessel for a body, a body, a vessel of liberation. Starships and oceanic ships are alike, considering possible futures of what these objects can mean.[viii]
Kydd’s work on view encourages cultural inclusiveness. Was, Is, An Eclipse reminds us that Black Trans Lives Matter. We hope visitors engage in dialog so current and future generations can develop tools and new attitudes to address systemic cultural inequities that have been set in place ever since Bacon's Rebellion in 1681 and to broaden the conversation since the Stonewall riots of 1969 and the BLM movement has us all talking in 2020.
Todd BartelGallery Director, Curator
[i] Kasem Kydd, Artist’s Statement, 2018 [ii] Kydd, recorded Zoom interview by Todd Bartel, August 1, 2020 [iii] Kydd, August 1, 2020 [iv] Kydd, August 1, 2020 [v] Human Rights Campaign, Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in 2020, (the number of fatalities sited can be found by following the links to the linked HRC reports for 2015-2019 at the bottom of the article), https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-trans-and-gender-non-conforming-community-in-2020, retrieved September 4, 2020 [vi] Kydd, Artist’s Statement