Germane Barnes, "No Beach Access" (2020), digital collage, 15 x 21.5 inches (image courtesy the artist and the Museum of Modern Art, New York)

How we construct space dictates how we use it and perhaps more importantly, who feels welcome to its room and resources. As a former architecture professor of mine once explained, think of what activities you feel invited to partake in when entering a concert hall. The very structure of the space permits only two main modes — spectating or performing — and thus dictates an inescapable power dynamic. 

Walter Hood, “Section Drawing – Folding Chair,” from Black Towers/Black Power (2020), plexiglass, 58 x 24 inches (image courtesy the artist and the Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America, a new exhibition now on view at the Museum of Modern Art, channels this attention to space and power through the lens of race. Organized by Sean Anderson and Mabel O. Wilson, with Arièle Dionne-Krosnick and Anna Burckhardt, the exhibition and its accompanying publication are framed as “an investigation into the intersections of architecture, Blackness and anti–Black racism in the American context.” The curators, along with the 10 Black artists, designers, and architects whose newly commissioned works fill the gallery, emphasize the physical and systemic structures of racism, honing in on the by design element of injustice that has foreclosed the ability for Black people to just be. Likewise, Reconstructions explores the refusal inherent in Black cultural spaces, which have created room for such communities to imagine liberatory alternatives.

“Reimagining Blackness and Architecture,” a newly launched online course offered by the museum creates further space for audiences to hear directly from Black designers, scholars, and artists. Co-taught by Anderson and educator Arlette Hernandez, the course highlights themes of imagination, care, knowledge, refusal, and liberation, and features luminaries like Michelle Joan Wilkinson, Amanda Williams, and Mario Gooden. The architect Walter J. Hood, for example, discusses his project Black Powers/Black Tower (2020), which is inspired by the Black Panther Party’s 10 Point program and reimagines a desolate stretch of Oakland’s San Pablo Avenue, lush with newly designed affordable housing and monuments and resources that both represent and serve Black communities. 

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As Hernandez explains, “Black artists, architects, scholars, and writers have responded to these histories of violence and exclusion to create new ways of being, reimagining the spaces that have refused us. My hope is that, through this course, we can begin to not only have meaningful conversations about building more equitable spaces, but also inspire new generations of emerging creatives who, like myself, never saw themselves reflected in architecture.”

The best part? The course is being offered completely for free.

When: ongoing
Where: online at Coursera via MoMA

More info at Coursera

Dessane Lopez Cassell is a New York based editor, writer, and film curator, as well as the former reviews editor at Hyperallergic. You can follow her work here.