NAAM Exhibit on James Baldwin Asks Questions About Race, Identity and Baldwin Himself

The Northwest African American Museum hosts a series of community conversations inspired by the life of openly gay African-American author James Baldwin. The discussions support the exhibit, Bearing Witness from Another Place: James Baldwin in Turkey, Photographs by Sedat Pakay, at the museum through September.

James Baldwin

The exhibit Bearing Witness From Another Place features striking  photos of author James Baldwin during his time in Istanbul. | photo by Sedat Pakay, courtesy of the Northwest African American Museum

Author James Baldwin stirred up more than a few ideas during his lifetime. Now, thanks to a new exhibit at Seattle’s Northwest African American Museum (NAAM), he’s still stirring up conversation, even after his death.

Baldwin was the author of many plays, novels, essays and poems, including his most famous novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain. His writing explored complex issues of identity, race and sexuality. Baldwin was active in the civil rights movement and an openly gay African-American man.

In the mid-1960s, Baldwin spent time in Istanbul, reflecting on current events and on universal human questions. It is this time in Turkey that inspired the exhibit Bearing Witness from Another Place: James Baldwin in Turkey, Photographs by Sedat Pakay, at NAAM through Sept. 29, 2013.

YOU CAN GO

What: James Baldwin as Theater Director: Staging Queerness in Istanbul with Magdalena Zaborowska
When: 6 p.m., May 23, 2013
Where: 2300 S. Massachusetts St., Seattle [Directions]
Cost: Museum admission $6; free for museum members
Contact: Katie Williams at (206) 518-6000 x104

What: Bearing Witness from Another Place: James Baldwin in Turkey, Photographs by Sedat Pakay exhibit at the Northwest African American Museum
When: Through Sept. 29, 2013. [Museum Hours]
Where: 2300 S. Massachusetts St., Seattle [Directions]
Cost: Museum admission $6; free for museum members

The museum has been sparking discussion beyond the gallery with its Community Conversation series, supported by a Humanities Washington Spark Grant. At the next event in the series on May 23, cultural scholar Madgalena Zaborowska will present James Baldwin as Theater Director: Staging Queerness in Istanbul, asking how Baldwin’s time in Turkey relates to questions of identity and sexuality (See You Can Go, right). Zaborowska’s talk will be followed by facilitated small group conversations, encouraging participants to compare Baldwin’s experiences and views to their own.

Both the exhibit and Community Conversations ask how new experiences or knowledge can change our perspectives. In Baldwin’s case, spending time in Turkey helped him reflect on issues of civil rights, patriotism and identity.

“(The exhibit) highlights the complexity of Baldwin’s relationship with his home country … a love that was undying and unwavering, yet it also reflected a contempt and a hatred for the current conditions that he needed a respite from,” said Kay Hubbard, Special Programs Manager at NAAM.

NWAAM-James-Baldwin-cropped_web

The NAAM’s Community Conversations series is designed to inspire conversation, reflection and sharing.

“Being out … one is not really very far out of the United States … one sees it better from a distance … from another place, from another country,” echoes Baldwin, as quoted in the exhibit.

The exhibit roots Baldwin in his particular time and place, reminding visitors that despite the universality of the questions he asked, Baldwin’s thinking was influenced by his personal experiences. A magnetic map asks visitors to match the photographs to the locations where they were taken. Images of Baldwin in Istanbul in 1965  are juxtaposed with the photo of a 1964 confrontation between a black man and white policemen, reminding visitors of the civil rights issues of the era.

PARTNER SPOTLIGHT

Who: Northwest African American Museum
Served: More than 18,000 people in 2012
Established: 2008
Mission: “To spread knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the histories, arts and cultures of people of African descent for the enrichment of all.”
On the Web: naamnw.org

NAAM Logo

Other photos show Baldwin in more everyday situations: laughing with friends, wearing goofy, mod sunglasses, and frying fish in a small kitchen. They help make Baldwin feel accessible and present.

“Baldwin seems big and weighty in his writing” as he deals with big themes, says Hubbard. But in these photos, she notes, “there’s a familiarity that resonates.”

Baldwin’s life and writing spur discussion at the Community Conversations series. The talks are geared to inspire participants to reflect on their own opinions and perspectives, and possibly open them to change – just as Baldwin’s time in Turkey opened his perspective. Baldwin in the 1960s and Seattleites in 2013 all deal with issues of race, inequality, patriotism, identity and sexuality. Because of that, both exhibit and programs are inspiring dynamic discussions.

The Community Conversations “spark additional conversations and connections among people during that evening and beyond,” said Hubbard.

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