Humor and the Abject

View Original

Azikiwe Mohammed's "Jimmy's Thrift of New Davonhaime" is Bigger and Better Than Ever

New Davonhaime Beer Sign 2 (2016), neon, 36 x 36 inches. Photo by the author.  

Artist Azikiwe Mohammed has installed the third iteration of his ambitious, ongoing “Jimmy’s Thrift of New Davonhaime” project at the Knockdown Center in Maspeth, Queens. It’s part art exhibition, part relational aesthetics intervention, part parallel reality, and part retail shop. “Jimmy’s Thrift,” while existing physically inside the walls of the Knockdown Center, is conceptually situated within the fictionalized town of New Davonhaime, a portmanteau Mohammed created that melds the names of the five most densely populated Black cities in the United States: New Orleans, LA; Detroit, MI; Jackson, MS; Birmingham, AL; and Savannah, GA.

"Jimmy" at his desk. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Postcards from New Davonhaime: Visitors are invited to take one, write about their visit, and mail it back to the artist for part of his growing collection. Photo by the author. 

"Jimmy's Thrift of New Davonhaime," installation view. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

In conversations with Mohammed, he’s regularly told me that the charge of “Jimmy’s Thrift,” and the entire concept behind New Davonhaime, is to create an alternate reality, a safe space in America for Black and Brown people whose bodies are in disproportionate danger under white supremacy. This is the first “Jimmy’s Thrift” since Donald Trump’s election, and in the wake of an emboldened racist America feeling that bigotry is no longer unfashionable, projects like Mohammed’s are bold examples of political praxis for artists. Instead of cowering, “Jimmy’s Thrift” has gotten larger.

"Jimmy's Thrift of New Davonhaime," installation view. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Foods (2017), artist books. Photo by the author. 

Foods (interior) (2017), artist book. Photo by the author. 

During open hours, "Jimmy" (Mohammed) is always on-site and on the clock, offering intimate tours, critical conversations, the opportunity to collaborate on a digital music sharing project using custom New Davonhaime jump drives, and tastes of the custom beer he developed for the exhibition, New Davonhaime Ale. His limited edition brew is currently available at Knockdown’s on-site bar, the Ready Room, and is now available at both the Upper East Side and West Village locations of Quality Eats

"Jimmy's Thrift of New Davonhaime," installation view. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Just for the record: during my visits to “Jimmy’s Thrift,” I’ve tasted the beer several times and it is really, really fucking good. I’ll admit to having been a little hesitant at first; artist-as-amateur is a charming premise that I almost always support, but when it requires me to physically ingest something that the amateur fermented, my eagerness to be a good participant is challenged. But Mohammed collaborated with the brewmasters at Interboro in Brooklyn to produce cans and kegs of the custom ale, and the result is categorically delicious. It also, conveniently, can get you pretty lifted.

“I told them that I don’t like IPAs or stouts. They told me those are their specialties. Luckily, they were open to trying something different.” - Azikiwe Mohammed

Shelving display of multiple lamp works, clockwise from top left: Lamont (2017); Anita (2017); Kevin (2015); Jaguar 1 (2017); Little Drummer Boy (2015); and Neighborhood Grocer (2016); various dimensions on found shelving, mounted on custom painted wall. The space responds throughout the day to natural the natural light coming into the Knockdown Center, with this being captured around sunset. Photo by the author.

My First Time (2016), custom made records, dimensions variable, and listening station. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Visitors to the exhibition are also encouraged to donate photographs to Mohammed’s ongoing Black Community Family Albums project. Another compelling element of the exhibition, one that is also participatory, is his growing collection of My First Time stories. Mohammed asks people to record themselves describing the first time that they realized that they were Black in America, then has those recordings "pressed" into 12” vinyl records. A relaxed listening station off to the side within “Jimmy’s Thrift” offers visitors an opportunity to intimately experience those stories through headphones connected to a record player. After that, one can dive into the aforementioned growing community music digital library housed on a neighboring computer.

"Jimmy's Thrift of New Davonhaime," installation view. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

James (2016), painting on mirror, 48 x 31 inches. Photo by the author. 

"Jimmy's Thrift of New Davonhaime," installation view. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

The first incarnation of “Jimmy’s Thrift” was at the 2016 SPRING/BREAK Art Show in Manhattan, where Mohammed’s immersive piece was curated by artist, Pioneer Works founder, and rumored ex-member of Rancid Dustin Yellin. It was perhaps the breakout piece of the sprawling and byzantine show, offering a calm, warm respite from scores of other installations. Practically every article about SPRING/BREAK that year--and there were lots--made a point to mention Mohammed’s startlingly eye-and-brain-catching contribution.

The "Jimmy's Thrift of New Davonhaime" neon sign, facing out from the exhibition to the parking lot at the Knockdown Center. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Who is this guy? I heard many a person ask during SPRING/BREAK 2016. Did he actually make all of that? The answer is yes, and no. “Jimmy’s Thrift” is definitely an artwork, but Mohammed’s unique ability to blend found objects with those of his own creation are part of the hypnotizing, beguiling practice he’s developed that keeps visitors coming back multiple times. Less than a month after that show, through a commission from No Longer Empty, Mohammed installed the second “Jimmy’s Thrift” in a vacant retail building in Jamaica, Queens where he reached an entirely new audience.

"Jimmy's Thrift of New Davonhaime," installation view. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

The first iteration of "Jimmy's Thrift of New Davonhaime" (2016), SPRING/BREAK Art Show, Moynihan Station, curated by Dustin Yellin. 

At Knockdown Center, given two very large formal exhibition rooms with towering ceilings and concrete floors, “Jimmy’s Thrift” isn’t as cozy, per se, as it was the first time around (pictured above). The wooden walls, low ceilings, and carpeted floors of the disused office spaces at Moynihan Station, the site of SPRING/BREAK 2016, lent the project a very different vibe. Mohammed’s was one of the few installations that year that felt fully site-specific, taking advantage of the challenging, funky room to its benefit. I didn’t actually have the opportunity to visit Mohammed’s second installment through No Longer Empty in Jamaica, Queens, so I’m unable to report accurately how it compared to the first. However, as I wandered through “Jimmy’s Thrift” at the Knockdown Center, the fact that it wasn’t as cramped, that each piece Mohammed has lovingly created a custom display for had space to breathe, felt important.

Cherub (2017), vase, mirrored rotating display, 10 x 9 x 6 inches. Photo courtesy of the arist.  

The New Davonhaime flag that Mohammed created for the flagpole outside of the Knockdown Center, as viewed from within his exhibition. Photo by the author. 

This time around, Mohammed is operating on his own terms. “Jimmy’s Thrift” is large and stands as an unapologetically Black presence. The project is inherently collaborative and participatory, but it is without a doubt a solo exhibition by an artist with a commanding vision. In just a year and a half, since many people were first introduced to Mohammed through “Jimmy’s Thrift” 1.0, he’s become a force to be reckoned with while somehow maintaining a reputation as one of the most thoughtful, caring artists around. “Jimmy’s Thrift,” while originally finding an audience through its inclusion in SPRING/BREAK, is clearly ready to stand on its own.

"Jimmy's Thrift of New Davonhaime" is on view at Knockdown Center, 52-19 Flushing Ave, Maspeth Queens, through October 29th. "Jimmy" will be on-site Fridays from 5-9pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 2-8pm.