They Are Building It—No Longer Empty’s Sugar Hill Exhibition

No longer empty launched its 5th Anniversary of site-specific projects with an exhibition at Broadway Housing Communities’ new Sugar Hill building.  Designed by the prominent architect David Adjaye, the 124 unit building of permanent affordable housing, represents the weave of art, architecture, and community.

If You Build It

155th Street & St. Nicholas Avenue

Exhibition Hours: Thursday—Friday 3-7p, Saturday—Sunday 1-6pm, Wednesday by appointment. 

The exhibition makes wonderful use of the space, including what will be community spaces on floor 9, that look out onto the terrace, as well as artists exhibiting in the apartment spaces.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed—No Instructions for Assembly Activation IV 2014

Kameelah Janan Rasheed—No Instructions for Assembly Activation IV 2014

No Instructions for Assembly, functions as an ephemeral and portable archive for the artist and her family who struggled through years of homelessness.

Passage ways are in the interior of the building, so all of the spaces receive ample lighting, thanks to the building being free-standing.  Whoever lives here, will be delighted to call these light filled spaces home.  Every morning they will be greeted by the light of a new day.

ELAN-Sugar Hill Tapestry 2014 Mixed Media 4 x 10 ft

ELAN-Sugar Hill Tapestry 2014 Mixed Media 4 x 10 ft

Artists exhibiting in the space are numerous, local and international, young and mid-career, names of note, and also students from New York City schools.  


Dread Scott’s Stop is among the more experiential pieces.  Set in a dark windowless corner room, his 2-channel video installation features two sets of three projected ‘panels’, on opposing walls.  Each cell-like ‘panel’ contains the projection of one black or latino male, at random the subjects inform the viewer just how many times they have been stopped by the Police.  60 times, 100 times, you can’t make this drastic discrimination up.

Dreadd Scott—2-channel HD projected video, Running time 7:16, 2012

Dreadd Scott—2-channel HD projected video, Running time 7:16, 2012

Further demonstrating the precariousness of the day to day that minority urban men experience, three of the men are from East New York, Brooklyn, and the other three are from Liverpool, UK.   Far from being an epidemic arising out of single particular place, the installation makes clear the circumstances for these men is pandemic. The host of this outbreak is none other than 1996 NY Police Chief William Bratton, who shared his zero tolerance policy planning with a suitable carrier, his UK equivalent, Ray Mallon.  

I don’t think there is any place in the world where impoverished zones are for lack of petty and serious crime, so why not get rid of poverty?

Radcliffe Bailey, Atlanta-based painter and sculptor, with two pieces in the show creates an effective presence of multiple perspectives derived from as many experiences.   Including an installation of dismantled piano pieces, ships and bodies symbolizing issues of historical displacement, diaspora, and migration, “Windward Coast” charges the space with a compacted chaos, like a puzzle without a picture of the end result. 

Radcliffe Bailey, Windward Coast. Windward Coast (detail), 2009. Piano keys, plaster bust, glitter

Radcliffe Bailey, Windward Coast. Windward Coast (detail), 2009. Piano keys, plaster bust, glitter

The dense placement and one head of a black male only slightly above a sea of appropriated piano keys (objects with layers of meaning) suggests that this is no puzzle, rather we have a history of catastrophic proportion.  And it is damning, suffocating, allowing one to live but not free from an unresolved cultural past, and present.  Yet the waves of keys are calm.  For Bailey the piece represents devastation from climate change (NOLA and Japan), and finding piece within chaos, in two words: Cognitive Content. Countering that piece is Bailey’s life-size bronze and wood sculpture of W.E.B. Du Bois, Pensive.  Posed in the stance of Rodin’s The Thinker, Du Bois sits in contemplation, but free from the physicality of deleterious malady and conditionings.  

Radcliffe Bailey— 2013, bronze and rough-sawn fir logs, 58 x 39 ¼ x 45  ¼ inches. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Radcliffe Bailey— Pensive, 2013, bronze and rough-sawn fir logs, 58 x 39 ¼ x 45 ¼ inches. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Conscientiously his life’s commitment was to the the healing of old wounds, and to the growing of new limbs—something we can’t be sure the head in the room-sized installation has.  Therefore, what migration to freedom looks like will differ per circumstance, and assumptions can’t be made if we don’t know (or can’t see) the fuller extent of the burden.

In conjunction with No Longer Empty, Art in FLUX presented several artists living and/or working in Harlem.  My friend Ula Einstein is one of the artists on view.  I’d seen Ula’s Unwinding Destiny project installed once before at a group show in Chelsea, with Yoko Ono.  The Sugar Hill installation demonstrated the versatility of her work as site-specific.  The artists installed their work within apartments—closet spaces, cabinets, and unfurled on the kitchen counter, and breakfast bar was Ula’s work. 

Unwinding Destiny, Ula Einstein Image Courtesy of the Artist

Unwinding Destiny, Ula Einstein Image Courtesy of the Artist

The ongoing exploration is about time, consumption, the weight and fragility of words: direct, cryptic, or unspoken, to diminish and/or empower.  Ula Einstein

Unwinding Destiny is described, by Einstein, as a text based work that employs humble materials.  Indeed, her studio shelves are an entrepôt for broken shells of eggs that she had been eating.  Six years later she imagined them as part of Unwinding.  The egg shells are delicately placed in a nesting of unwound cassette tape, encouraging the exploration of text imprinted on their surface.

I asked Ula to say a bit more of her work in the context of the revitalization of Sugar Hill Harlem, an area of affluence during the Renaissance, and home to many influential African-Americans.

Ula Einstein: 

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?  Langston Hughes

In relation to Hughes’ Essay:

I think about the Have and the Have Not.  My work with fragile and humble materials speaks to the paradox of decay and renewal. Fragility and strength. The broken shell alludes to birth, protection, as well as limitation, and questioning what does it take to transform, to migrate to new terrain.  We are influenced by cultural messages;  language is a way we take a stand about what we desire to deepen and generate.

Feeling through a higher cognitive process, the material terrain animates an exquisite dialectical exploration of words (THOUGHTS, LOVE CONQUERS, QUESTION), whose meanings become “imprinted,” carrying with them weight.  Free from elements of guilt and shame, her work is a distinctively nurturing portal.  

On the Third Floor of the David Adjaye designed Broadway Housing Communities Sugar Hill Development, No Longer Empty (NLE) invited local organizations to exhibit work.  

Collaborating with NLE for a second time Arts Connection presented Teens Curate Teens—a student curatorial and exhibition program, led by NLE staff and museum professionals.  On an arts and education mission, Arts Connection has reached 50,000 students to date.  Rose from the Concrete explores themes of identity, architecture, and community in conversation with NLE’s concurrent exhibition, If You Build It.

Teens Curate Teens-Submitted Works Image from

Teens Curate Teens-Submitted Works
Image from

Arts Connection’s Teens Curates Teens operates as both a curatorial and an artist program led by NLE staff and museum professionals.  The call to teen artists went out city-wide, with a particular focus on Harlem schools. 

Adonys Jimenez, Empty Benches, Multi-media installation

Adonys Jimenez, Empty Benches, Multi-media installation

Seven curators, have organized an exhibition of twenty-five works by fellow students.  According to their site, sixty-five young artists are taking part in Rose from the Concrete.  For many of the teen’s she said that this was their first such experience, and that they are involved with every aspect of the curatorial process.  

If You Build It.  We’re waiting for something to happen, and here it is.  A ray of light on public housing does shine.  Replete with breathtaking views, there is a place that has reserved some twenty plus units for families currently living in shelters.  There is a place that has in its scope the developmental role that art plays for a child and the community at large.  Here is a place that stakes claim in a neighborhood laden within rich history. Repurposing sacred cultural grounds once place of affluence, culture, impactful intellectuals, and arts—a bygone era suppressed into an underprivileged classification—becoming home to a righteous leap forward into fair housing, a place that truly aims to nurture and spawn potential, like its terrace will provide a grand vista of what can be in this lifetime.

Visit Broadway Housing Communities and discover what the future also looks like.