Photograph of members of The Utopia Neighborhood Club, New York City. As published in The Crisis, March 1923. Reference image for Steffani Jemison's Promise Machine, 2014–15

In conjunction with the exhibition One Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North, Brooklyn-based artist Steffani Jemison (American, b. 1981) presents her new multipart commission Promise Machine. In her work across media, Jemison explores ideas of improvisation, repetition, and the fugitive in black history and vernacular culture.

Inspired by the Utopia Neighborhood Club, a Harlem-based women’s social service organization that directly supported Jacob Lawrence, Promise Machine comprises a reading group and performance inspired by the notion of utopia. In April 2015 Jemison will bring together members of Harlem-based community organizations as well as artists, writers, activists, and others for a Utopia Club reading group in MoMA’s library, where they will discuss black American literary and political visions of an ideal society. In June 2015 Jemison will premiere a new musical performance in the Museum galleries, with original libretto by the artist and a score composed collaboratively by the artist and Courtney Bryan. The work will incorporate text generated during the reading group, and will address specific works on view in MoMA’s collection, including selections from Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series.

Organized by Stuart Comer, Chief Curator, and Thomas J. Lax, Associate Curator, with Martha Joseph, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Media and Performance Art.

The program is made possible by MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation.

MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos.

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