MIAMI — “Do kids even play outside anymore?”
Diamond Stingily asked that question last month, during a conversation with poet and artist Rindon Johnson at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Miami. It was less a query than an aside, an addendum to other remarks she’d made about the Double Dutch and matriarchal love of her childhood in Chicago. Stingily was a writer first, as early as age eight — the pages of her third-grade diary were published by Dominica as Love, Diamond — and today she still has a writer’s cognizance, noting and observing the irony and depth of her life as she’s living it.
In my notes from the talk, there’s a scribbled message to a friend sitting next to me, a complaint about the folks chatting and scrolling through Instagram behind us: “They can’t put it away. People have such a hard time engaging and staying present now.” Stingily, discussing the tender toughness of her grandmothers, the emotional weight and physical strength of black women’s hair — “if I set my hair on fire, it probably wouldn’t even burn” — and the awkward moments of her girlhood, doesn’t have this problem.
Her exhibition at ICA Miami, Life in My Pocket, is a simulacrum of childhood, and of Stingily’s girlhood specifically: “Fences” (2018), two entryway chain-link fences, imply an opening but also a border; the looped telephone cords of “Double Dutchess” (2018) are perfect materials, Stingily said, for jumping rope. There’s a weathered basketball hoop, titled “Romeoville Driveway” (2018), in reference to the Illinois town, and “Tumble” (2018), a concrete slab layered with coils of Kaneklon hair — a kind of painting in its expression. “Juice Drank” (2018), a trash can filled with Little Hug juice barrels in jellybean colors, is a good reminder of why those drinks are named as such. I’d forgotten the soft and round packaging, the embrace in your hand and sugar-rush in your blood.
There is also the heft of violence, either imposed — as in “Blue Light Surveillance” (2018), a surveillance camera and police light flashing blue across the compact space — or protective, as with “Entryways” (2017), a wooden door flanked with a baseball bat. The latter is a reference to Stingily’s grandmother, Estelle, who had a habit of keeping a bat at the entrance to her home. In an interview with Good Trouble, Stingily said, “I think violence is a part of every day for a lot of people — to be non-violent I think is a very privileged thing.”
During her talk with Johnson, she mentioned the ways in which black children are treated like adults. This is partly due to these threats, but their signifiers don’t quite loom over Life in My Pocket; rather, they’re part and parcel of the experience, that sad truism that police frequent playgrounds, break up the debauchery of youth with abandon — and especially that of black children, denying them the small luxury of bruises and singsong.
Life in My Pocket semaphores mostly joyful, visceral truths taken from Stingily’s childhood diary, about girlhood as a thing to carry with her but also to revisit — girlhood as a place.
Diamond Stingily: Life in My Pocket continues at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (61 NE 41st St, Miami) through October 14.