No More Water brings together emerging artists Tahir Carl Karmali and Justin Sterling to respond to the Old Stone House’s unique space. Both artists use reclaimed and abstracted vernacular materials––including used cell phone batteries and broken windows––to symbolize local and global policies that contribute to inequality and displacement. The title No More Water also implies our current climate emergency (characterized by increased floods, wildfires, and water contamination) and an urgent call for action.
The artists chose No More Water to reference James Baldwin’s 1963 publication The Fire Next Time, which begins and ends with the line, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time!”, quoting the spiritual Mary Don’t you Weep and alluding to the Old Testament story of God flooding a corrupt earth. The Fire Next Time is considered a galvanizing text for the American Civil Rights movement in its examination of racial injustice and its call for all people of “consciousness” to “change the history of the world.” Situated at OSH in a reconstructed colonial farmhouse and Revolutionary War battleground, Karmali and Sterling’s work helps confront uncomfortable truths of the past and present while also suggesting possibilities for transformation.
Both artists explore the potential and limitations of art’s role in addressing injustice. Karmali describes his installations as “deceptively beautiful or attractive, as an art form, allowing the viewer to savor them as primary material before a layer of trauma (of migration, of displacement, of labor) slowly reveals itself.” He presents new and site-specific work from his ongoing STRATA series, which consists of layered raffia dyed with cobalt extracted from cell phone batteries, referencing traditional Congolese kuba cloth and the exploitation of cobalt miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sterling’s sculptures made of broken windows and other urban detritus, by contrast, retain more of their original, sometimes jarring forms, alluding to the controversial policing policy of the same name as well as other forces that contribute to displacement, gentrification, and mass incarceration. Yet they offer myriad “attempts to fix, recycle, or archive” as an alternative to discarding. Both artists metaphorically push back against the destruction of both local communities and our larger environment, while simultaneously placing the viewer in close physical proximity with the impact of this destruction, challenging a “culture of indifference.”
At the August 15 opening at 7pm, Justin Sterling’s opening performance will combine trumpet and movement improvisation to respond to the work on view, also alluding to his roots in New Orleans, an area with a history of natural disasters and rebuilding.
Funding for No More Water is made possible, in part, by the Puffin Foundation and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.