Khader Syed

Art at the museum

Mon Jan 16 2023


I had been feeling down and depressed the last few days. Perhaps it was the weather, or the cold and cough I still have or the unnecessary and unexpected drama at work. All part of the human condition, I’m pretty sure.

And so, we did nothing yesterday and had planned to go to the museum today.

So glad we went to the museum, specifically the MoMA PS1 in Queens. It was a short ride on the subway from our nest in Clinton Hill.

This was my first visit to the PS1. It is a beautiful location and space. There are huge open spaces as you enter, with tables and benches in graveled sections. There is interesting interplay of sunlight and shadows in these sections, accentuated by the high walls of the museum. The exterior of the building itself looks like a school or a prison from a period drama on BBC or PBS.

The building is three floors, with two levels of stairs that take to you the first level. Once you land on the first floor, there’s a café to your right. It was closed this cold wintry afternoon in January.

There are two large doors that take you into the building. We took the one on the right and walked through another set of doors and turned right.

The first exhibition on our left felt like a community space and the art there felt nascent. It seemed to reflect and resonate with my values and experiences. Nothing new for me there. Later, while reminiscing, I came to the conclusion that this was a good appetizer to what lay ahead.

We walked out and took one of a set of stairs that took us to the second floor. On this floor, we entered a door to our right into a room that had two entrances on either side. We entered the one to our left.

This exhibit had artwork that was a combination of embroidery and oil on canvas. There were themes of anti-capitalism and queer imagery. The art itself looked shoddily done. The word kitschy constantly popped up in my head and I wasn’t entirely sure if it was the right word.

The use of embroidery on canvas was intriguing. Artists do come up with some very creative ideas.

Next, we entered the exhibit to the right. The paintings, mostly acrylic on canvas were really bright and colorful. The scenes chaotic, irreverent and nonsensical.

After a bit of digesting, the paintings got the gears in my head going. It was like completing the process of stepping into a familiar yet unfamiliar world. The words and the individual visual elements felt familiar, but the combination did not. The artist was taunting me, challenging me to glean what they were saying.

This, to me, felt like the main course for this brunch. This is when I had the epiphany.

This is what I consider Art. Art that takes me in and through entirely new and different worlds, where I want to question my own reality and experiences, question my own place in this world etc.,

All art is art and worthy of our time. And as the audience or viewer, it is our responsibility to glean the essence of what the artist is saying. The more difficult and challenging that endeavor, the more interesting the art. Art then truly reveals who we are.

This artist was Umar Rashid.

After that exhibit, we took the stairs to the third floor and caught the remaining exhibits. One of them, artwork and exhibits by Jumana Manna - one movie in particular, I think, called the Foragers made me ask the question - has Israel been committing genocide all this while against the Palestinians?

We finished our tour of the third floor and walked down to the first floor. There were a few remaining exhibitions we hadn’t seen that had to be seen to complete a very eventful visit on a beautiful, sunny and crisp day.

We left the museum through the door on our right.