"Library of Black Lies" at the Henry

Thank goodness most art venues give you a few months to see the work of major artists: I’d miss pretty much everything if they were two-day pop-ups. Fortunately, my schedule opened up the other day, so I seized the chance to see Edgar Arceneaux’s installation at the Henry Art Gallery.

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The danger of a single narrative — especially about black people — is one of his primary themes. Part of the wall text reads:

Arceneaux’s architectural installation Library of Black Lies furthers this conceit, positing that there is no singular truth to history and that even well-intentioned narratives can lock things down to one agenda or cause. Arceneaux argues that the true nature of people and events, which is insistently messy, chaotic, and rhizomatic, is often whitewashed and sterilized.

Talk about “messy”: the installation includes several of Bill Cosby’s books, partially encrusted with sugar crystals. It’s lovely and disturbing, because the crystallization gradually eats away at the book. What a profound way to illustrate how Cosby’s (pre-rape-conviction) narratives and fatherly image morph into something else.

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As an artist who also explores different ways of being black, I’m inspired by this traveling installation — and also really glad I didn’t see it before my museum exhibit. I can imagine going down a rabbit hole of comparing my work-in-progress to his… and nobody wants to see that end result. If you’d like to see the “Library of Black Lies,” seize the day: the installation closes the first weekend of June.