June 29, 7:30 pm – 9:00pm | DJ Black Helmet Performance
Additional performances to be announced
About the Exhibition
Knockdown Center is pleased to present Pigeonhole: The Life and Work of Bobby Alam, a new exhibition by Priyanka Dasgupta and Chad Marshall. Pigeonhole is a multidisciplinary portrait of Bahauddin “Bobby” Alam, a Bengali peddler and sailor and who arrived in the United States in 1918 and lived as a Black jazz musician in New York and New Orleans. The exhibition memorializes Alam’s career and explores his personal navigation of an especially precarious period in American history, prompting a reflection on the complexities of racial passing as a means for marginalized people to circumvent violence.
Alam’s identity is a composite of historical realities and imagined truths, culled from the unwritten experiences of Bengali sailors who passed as Black in the early twentieth century by settling into communities of color in order to bypass anti-Asian immigration laws in the United States at the time. The artists deploy these histories to bring to light the ways in which passing can function as a strategy for survival.
The installation portrays Alam’s dressing room, rehearsal space, and performance stage in the kind of juke joint where he would have spent his evenings constructing and performing his adopted identity. Objects within the installation highlight Alam’s life and career as a musician: a zoot suit embellished with Indian kantha style embroidery, old handbills and concert posters, musical compositions, video documentation from Alam’s rehearsals, and private recordings. Clues within each of these objects reveal, upon close reading, the staged and dual nature of Alam’s identity, which subtly trespasses the lines between reality and fiction.
Over the course of the exhibition, contemporary musicians inspired by Alam will take the stage and perform live, enabling the past evoked by the installation to live once again, while resonating with Knockdown Center’s function as a music venue. Additional elements of the exhibition will extend into Knockdown Center’s outdoor spaces, restrooms, and bar.
About the Performances
DJ Black Helmet Performance
Saturday, June 29 | 7:30 – 9:00pm
Artist Azikiwe Mohammed will perform as DJ Black Helmet at the opening reception to kick off a series of performances over the course of the exhibition inspired by Alam’s musical career. DJ Black Helmet will play a DJ set infused with Alam’s influences, including the sounds of New Orleans Dixieland jazz, blues, and Baul music from West Bengal and Bangladesh. The set is inspired by Alam’s roots as well as his musical career in the United States in the 1920s through the 1950s, and also includes original compositions by contemporary musicians whose journeys and influences resonate with Alam’s complex history and hybrid identity.
About the Artists
Priyanka Dasgupta and Chad Marshall began collaborating in 2015. Their work is located in the gaps between history and story-telling, and draws from archival texts, sociological conventions, oral histories, postmodern theory and postcolonial studies, to examine power and privilege in the United States, and its relationship with image, and appearance. Exhibitions of their collaborative work include Pigeonhole, Dodd Galleries, University of Georgia (2019), Sunroom Project Space: Paradise, at Wave Hill, New York (2018), How to see in the dark, at Cuchifritos Gallery, New York (2018), Not an edge but a hinge, at Abrons Arts Center, New York (2018), In Practice: Another Echo at Sculpture Center, New York (2018), Loving Blackness and A More Perfect Union at the Asian Arts Initiative, Philadelphia (2017), Ornate Activate at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, Milwaukee (2017) and Shirin Gallery, New York (2015). Residencies include the Artist Studio Program at Smack Mellon (2018) and AIRspace at Abrons Arts Center (2018).
This exhibition is organized by Alexis Wilkinson, Knockdown Center Director of Exhibitions and Live Art.