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Derrick Adams

How Artist Derrick Adams Learned About Freedom From ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book

in Black Culture by

On a recent wintry morning, the multimedia artist Derrick Adams was sitting in his cozy basement studio in Brooklyn talking about distant cities and faraway times. “It’s like reading a fairy tale book.

I see the names of beauty schools and men’s clubs and taverns, and I think, ‘What does that place look like?’”

Derrick Adams
Derrick Adams at his studio in Brooklyn with elements from his new show, “Sanctuary,” at the Museum of Arts and Design. Credit Andrew White for The New York Times

Mr. Adams was referring to the establishments listed in the “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a series of AAA-like guides for black travelers published from 1936 through 1966, and the inspiration for “Derrick Adams: Sanctuary,” an immersive installation opening at the Museum of Arts and Design (known as MAD) on Jan. 25.

In his collages and immersive installations, Mr. Adams uses fabric and wallpaper to suggest roads and car doors. A steering wheel was made from a hat brim. Credit Terrence Jennings/The Museum of Arts and Design

Widely used at a time when African-Americans were navigating physical and social mobility through the swamp of Jim Crow laws and attitudes in the mid-20th century, the Green Books, as they came to be known, listed businesses from gas, food and lodging to nightclubs and haberdasheries that welcomed African-Americans when many did not.

A collage in progress in Mr. Adams’s studio melds a modernist grid with vintage-looking fabric in a brick pattern that elicits the old establishments, building facades and travel. “I’ve thought a lot about barriers, and accessibility, and obstacles, and perseverance,” the artist said. Credit Andrew White for The New York Times

While they reflect a disturbing reality of American history, the books also offered the hope of partaking in the American dream. “They enabled African-Americans to travel like Americans and to feel American,” the artist said.

“Beacon,” 2017, by Derrick Adams, suggests the welcome after a long day of driving. Credit Derrick Adams Studio

Recognized internationally for his kaleidoscopic explorations of the black experience, Mr. Adams, 47, who is African-American, is the first major visual artist to use the Green Books as a creative point of departure.

MIAMI, FL – DECEMBER 02: Derrick Adams attends Interview & Cadillac Celebrate Art of Daring at Maps Backlot on December 2, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

For him, they are not only a Civil Rights artifact and instrument of social change, but also a fascinating record of black leisure time and the built environment — subjects that are continuously percolating in his work.

Read the rest at the New York Times

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