MoMA Mixtape: BLK MKT Vintage Reaches New Heights Thanks to a Solid Foundation
Jannah Handy and Kiyanna Stewart pay homage to Linda Goode Bryant with a playlist inspired by her Just Above Midtown gallery and MoMA’s acquisition of the JAM archives.
Jannah Handy, Kiyanna Stewart
Mar 22, 2023
Shortly after Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces opened at MoMA, we were given the opportunity to visit the museum and spend some time in the exhibition space. Neither of us was familiar with the work and history of Just Above Midtown (JAM), a gallery and self-described laboratory founded by Linda Goode Bryant in 1974; it was exciting to engage with the rich history of a Black, New York City institution that has been so formative for many artists we admire. As collectors/antique dealers and two Black women from Brooklyn, the exhibition spoke to us and to the importance of archiving, preserving, and documenting our communities and their contributions. The Just Above Midtown exhibition gave us a proverbial peek behind the curtain—with artworks shown alongside JAM’s treasure trove of historical ephemera (bills, proposals, checks, event flyers, and other documents). The exhibition serves as a testament to the vitality of cultural institutions, and the support they offer artists to experiment while constructing newly imagined futures and forging community. Next year JAM turns 50, and we created this playlist and reading list to commemorate its impact on the art world and beyond. May its legacy live on.
—Jannah Handy and Kiyanna Stewart, Owners, BLK MKT Vintage
Kiyanna Stewart at MoMA, January 12, 2023
Quote from Linda Goode Bryant: “...Let’s just do it ourselves” + Lyn Collins’s “Think (About it)”
“The sistahs aren’t going for that no more.” Besides being a dope song that uses sampling and interpolations before their time, “Think,” by Lyn Collins, perfectly encapsulates Linda Goode Bryant’s spirit of self-determination. Women don’t need a man (or a MoMA)—let’s just do it ourselves.
A wall of JAM ephemera from the gallery archives on view in Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces, September 10, 2022–February 18, 2023
Past-due bills issued to JAM + Gwen Guthrie’s “Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On but the Rent”
Fifty years is a lot of time for things to change, but sadly some things stay the same. Even today, “ain’t nothing going on but the rent.” Gwen Guthrie spoke a word back in 1986, but the truth about gentrification and powerful institutions taking up space is a tale as old as time. Seeing JAM’s administrative ephemera—which is now part of the Just Above Midtown Archives at MoMA—enlightened us to the challenges organizations face when given little external support and backing. In this song, I think Gwen was getting at the perpetual, ubiquitous, and demanding nature of capitalism. Seeing this wall covered in bills and invoices issued to JAM feels like a rejection of the shame that capitalism nurtures in us, and an indictment of the predatory systems (financial and otherwise) that govern our lives and institutions.
Kiyanna Stewart at MoMA, January 12, 2023
Betye Saar. Fragments. 1976
Betye Saar’s Fragments + Jamila Woods’s “Blk Girl Soldier”
Honoring those who come before us is our life’s work. Betye Saar’s work always speaks to us because of the ways she places Black culture and womanhood along the time continuum. Using vintage and found objects, Saar creates scenes that speak to history, nostalgia, and lineage. In her song “Blk Girl Soldier,” Jamila Woods does the same thing sonically, evoking names of ancestors who laid the foundation for us—models of liberation and brighter Black futures.
Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy at MoMA, January 12, 2023
Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds’s Roberta Flack + Hurricane Turbos’ “Mamayoni”
We stared at this portrait of Roberta Flack for a few minutes, completely held by the tones, her facial features, and the textures of her hair, blouse, and background. The artist is Kapo. Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds is from St. Catherine parish in Jamaica, the same parish as my father. I (Kiyanna) chose “Mamayoni,” a traditional revivalist chune, to reflect Kapo’s tenure as a religious leader who incorporated religious motifs in his work. This painting represents Kapo’s special relationship with secular soul/R&B artist Roberta Flack, who funded his 1975 exhibition at JAM. This portrait asks us to reflect on who we are as a community, and on the deliberate care that exists between Black artists.
Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds. Roberta Flack. 1970
JAM v. MoMA side-by-side + Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon”
In 2023 it shouldn’t be controversial to say that we live in an unequal world, where the promises of meritocracy and the American dream are muddied by privilege, nepotism, and bias. Seeing the difference in the resources of two New York institutions is eye-opening. “Whitey on the Moon” is a poetic journey into the depths of societal, governmental, and institutional inequity; Gil Scott-Heron delineates the “haves” and the “have-nots” along racial lines and questions the ethics of investing millions of dollars in space travel when millions of Americans live in poverty. Fifty-three years after the song was written we are faced with white billionaires prioritizing (and privatizing) space exploration while pursuing questionable business and labor practices on Earth.
JAM v. MoMA side-by-side in Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces
Suzanne Jackson. MaeGame. 1973. On view in the exhibition Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces
Suzanne Jackson’s MaeGame + Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Drum Song”
“Drum Song,” by Earth, Wind & Fire, has a softness and earthiness that mirrors Suzanne Jackson’s work. With its floating figures/abstractions, MaeGame, a large-format acrylic painting, reads somewhat like a watercolor. Earth, Wind & Fire was all about the abstract, futuristic, and unconventional, and MaeGame evokes similar motifs. Both works incorporate earthy, natural elements, illuminating Black folks’ connection to the Earth.
The following recommendations are influenced by the themes of Just Above Midtown, some of which include surviving the New York City grind, representation in the art scene, and Black liberation/struggle in a world dictated by oppressive Western ideals. For us, the following books help to construct a nuanced image of our lived experiences, current imaginative practices, and future reimaginations and interpolations.
Black Futures, by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham
Just Above Midtown: 1974 to the Present, by Kellie Jones
Among Others: Blackness at MoMA, by Charlotte Barat, Darby English, and Mabel O. Wilson
Design and Violence, by Paola Antonelli
Black Archives, by Renata Cherlise
Jannah Handy in MoMA’s book store
MoMA Mixtape: Laura Lee Comes Back to Herself
The Khruangbin bassist takes you on a sonic journey through time and space with a playlist inspired by works on view at MoMA.
Feb 28, 2023
Ming Smith and the Energy of Jazz
The artist takes us on a journey through jazz and blues that inspired the photographs in her new exhibition.
Ming Smith, Habiba Hopson, Kaitlin Booher
Feb 1, 2023