A couple weekends after the Kara Walker exhibit was the Open Doors Arts Festival in Newark. I was so overwhelmed by the amount of events coming up that I didn’t know where to start.
I had been in contact with a former student of mine (I’ll call her S), who happened to be dating a person I lived next door at the time she was my student. Since she was at Rutgers-Newark, I suggested that maybe she come along with me to a couple shows on Thursday. I thought we’d start at Allure, which is right by my house, and go from there.
We walked inside, and the only arty person there was a woman taking stuff out of boxes at one of the tables. We asked her what was going on, and she said things weren’t really ready there yet. Saturday night was going to have more stuff going on, like a documentary of hers and another person. I said we’d try to come back then. She gave us pamphlets before we left.
Walking towards my car in the parking lot of my building, we ran into some of the kids my son plays with at the park right there. My son wanted to play with them, so I said we should just let him play a while and then go to the NJIT gallery.
He played awhile while we talked about apartments. She was trying to find another one, I had just moved to this one. I pulled him off the swings by 6:30 so that we could go to the show. He didn’t want to leave, but he was fine with it by the time he got strapped into his carseat. We happened to find a spot one block away from CoAD Gallery at NJIT and walked right upstairs to Willie Cole’s exhibit: Made in Newark.
The first thing we all saw was the water bottles. There were two sculptures made of empty bottles in the shape of umbrellas, and immediately I wondered how he collected them. Were they bottles he drank himself? Did he find them somewhere? Does it matter?
My favorite piece, right away, was the oldest one there. It was a painting called Roaches from 1978. There were about ten people in the painting all smoking. Their eyes were shiny and some were red. They all said something different. Paranoid, sneaky, suspicious, unfazed, innocent, excited, worried. It felt like the ten faces of highness.
We did a quick lap around everything—from the chalkboards to the iron shaped pieces—and found food in the back room. I felt a little better about inviting my former student to hang out because now I didn’t have to feel weird about not feeding her myself, which I was too broke to even offer. It was all Chinese food. I handed my son a spring roll, and we stood around to eat. He only took a couple bites before he saw the pile of fortune cookies nearby. He gave me the spring roll back and headed for the cookie mountain ahead of him. By the end of the night, he must have ate about ten of them, including the last one.
I talked to one of my neighbors who happened to be there too. S and my son ran around while I was doing that. Eventually the three of us all caught back up with each other and talked about some of the paintings. A lot of his work had irons on people’s bodies. S said something about people’s body’s being burned. I liked that idea. I thought it had to do with the flattening of people’s identities. There was one painting that was actually in the shape of a slave ship. S made me realize that the ship itself was an ironing board.
We walked around a bit more. I tried standing near the artist while he talked to other people. I was going to say something when he was done with that group. But his conversation just would not end. I could see my son being a little wilder than he should be on the other side of the room. I was like ok I’m out. Let’s go. I dropped S off to her car around the block, where she had a parking ticket and went home.