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CENTRAL LIBRARY - ReflectSpace -- WAKE: The Afterlife of Slavery

WAKE: The Afterlife of Slavery

  • Date: 09/15/2017 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
  • Location: Central Library
    222 East Harvard Street
    Glendale, California 91205
  • Introduction: ReflectSpace at Downtown Central presents Wake, an exhibition tracing a jagged narrative of slavery in the U.S. from the slave trade to the present.

Wake--the afterlife of slavery WebReflectSpace at Downtown Central presents Wake, an exhibition tracing a jagged narrative of slavery in the U.S. from the slave trade to the present. Revolving around the ideas of Black scholar and author Christina Sharpe, Wake engages various meanings of that word to speak about the aftermath and long reach of slavery. The exhibition runs from September 15 to November 5, 2017. Opening reception is on Friday, September 15 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

The notion of wake has myriad layers of meaning: it is the distortions in the aftermath of a ship’s passing and the ruptures that persist long after its passing; an attendance and a witnessing of the dead, a kind of final act of caring; the state of rising out of sleep to move and act--being present today and now. Wake cuts both ways: into death as well as life.

What is the “wake” of the estimated 350,000 slave ships that crossed the Atlantic? “I talk about ‘wake work’”, says Christina Sharpe. “The wake is keeping track of the ship, keeping watch for the dead. It was a way for me to think about the persistence of Black death and the persistence of Black life, the ways in which Black people nonetheless make spaces of joy. ‘Wake work’ is the work that we Black people do in the face of our ongoing death, and the ways we insist life into the present.”

Anchored by the works of Pulitzer-prize winning photographer Clarence Williams and photographer and installation artist Nicola Goode, Wake reflects on Sharpe’s ideas and traces a non-linear narrative of slavery from various points of view.

Williams, who is originally from Philadelphia, PA, was in New Orleans for a wedding when hurricane Katrina struck. Rescued from atop a house, Williams stayed to be a witness and document the destruction of Black communities there: a Black death due to long-time government and institutional neglect and abandonment of Black citizenry. Nicola Goode, employing archival images, documents and photographs, re-configures and presents her Black family history over three generations in the Los Angeles area while addressing issues of exclusion and marginalization. Goode touches upon what Sharpe calls “Black life”: an “insistence” of life into the present and adaptation and re-imagination of living in communities amidst ongoing death.

Alongside artwork, Wake presents archival material as artifact: series of documents and images that stitch together a narrative of the “afterlife” of slavery in multiple contexts. Casting a wide net across space and time, Wake engages in a process of re-appropriation of archives to generate a non-linear historical narrative. It mines the archival collections at Glendale’s Downtown Central Library, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and various universities to complete and complement Williams’ and Goode’s works. Included in the exhibit are documents, photographs and audio material from “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1938” a Library of Congress collection, slave bill of sale, runaway slave ads, slave ship manifests and KKK-related newspaper clippings and sundown law documents from Glendale.

Enhacing and supplementing Wake at ReflectSpace, Downtown Central’s Passageway gallery presents posters that explore diverse historical aspects of African-American life. The poster are from A Place for all People: Introducing the National Museum of African American History and Culture Collection and courtesy of the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibitions Service (SITES) program.

Wake is a jagged narrative of the “afterlife” of slavery and a representation of the unending ripples and ruptures in the lives of Black communities. It is at once a reflection, an act of mourning and a call to witness. Wake is co-curated by Ara and Anahid Oshagan.


ReflectSpace is a new exhibition space inside Downtown Central Library designed to explore and reflect on major human atrocities, genocides and civil rights violations. Immersive in conception, ReflectSpace is a hybrid space that is both experiential and informative, employing art, technology and interactive media to reflect on the past and present of Glendale’s communal fabric and interrogate current-day global human rights issues.

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