RECONSTRUCTIONS PORTRAIT: Amanda Williams on the Possibility of Free Space

๐˜–๐˜ฏ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ค๐˜ค๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America ๐˜ข๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜”๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ๐˜ถ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜”๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ณ๐˜ต, ๐˜—๐˜๐˜•โ€“๐˜œ๐˜— ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ต ๐˜‹๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฅ ๐˜๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜ค๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฆ ๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฐ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธโ€™๐˜ด ๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ค๐˜ช๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ค๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ต๐˜ด, ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ด, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜จ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด. ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ด ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฃ๐˜บ ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ๐˜ด ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ค๐˜ช๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต (๐˜ด๐˜ฆ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ). ๐˜—๐˜๐˜•โ€“๐˜œ๐˜—โ€™๐˜ด ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜ถ๐˜ค๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜š๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ช๐˜ข๐˜ญ ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ด๐˜ฐ ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆย ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ. ๐˜ˆ ๐˜—๐˜๐˜•โ€“๐˜œ๐˜— ๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฑ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉย ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜‰๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ.

With a background in architecture, Chicago-based Amanda Williams uses art to expose and complicate entangled architectural, urban, political, and economic realities. Working across media โ€” from photography and cut paper to sculpture, installation, and even, i**n her 2014โ€“16 Color(ed) Theory, painting entire vacant homes โ€” Williams challenges racialized and gendered notions of citizenship and safety while begging formal questions of color, space, and movement.**

Amanda Williams photographed by David Hartt for PINโ€“UP.

PINโ€“UP: What led you to architecture?

Amanda Williams: What brought me to architecture was segregation โ€” the inequities and proactive government policies that denied the distribution of resources for land and home ownership and maintenance and care for spaces, which I traversed while growing up in Chicago. This led to the well-intended but naรฏve assumption that โ€œarchitectureโ€ was my path to beauty and equity for these urban landscapes. In fact, what Iโ€™m passionate about is space both physical and conceptual โ€” primarily spaces that look like the one I grew up in, no matter the city.ย 

What does that look like in your practice today?

There is pressure in the discipline of architecture to lead with a narrative about โ€œfixing.โ€ Analysis, assessment, site plans from a 10,000-foot birdโ€™s-eye view, funneling โ€œsolutionsโ€ into form. But why is a project brief so often framed as a problem? What if it was seen through a lens of possibility? Which is not to say through myopic blinders that pretend the slate is blank, but something else, a new model. I have no idea what that is, but thatโ€™s the question Iโ€™m excited about. My artistic trajectory essentially allows me to iteratively practice in public. Thereโ€™s a power to ruminating on ongoing themes but framed via different media, scales, and contexts. Itโ€™s the throughline that ties โ€œthrivalโ€ to Shirley Chisholm (the first African-American woman elected to the United States Congress, to whom Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous are creating a 40-foot monument in Brooklyn) to MoMA to Color(ed) Theory to abstract painting. This approach allows me to create or participate in different projects that can be used to complicate how we map urban/architectural/legal pasts and presents. A creative practice that uses any medium necessary doesnโ€™t take up questions of art or architecture or policy or painting or, or, orโ€ฆ Those boundaries and categories are for someone else. Itโ€™s made me tired to parse how much of me is Black or woman or Chicagoan or, or, or... I used to do it out of politeness. I donโ€™t anymore. The same holds true for the work I do. I am compelled by slippages and dualities in our use of and understanding of the language of space โ€” free space, outer space, inner space, physical space. Freedom to, not freedom from. Iโ€™m not sure Iโ€™ve ever really seen that play out for Black people at a large sustainable urban or even rural scale, but thatโ€™s the desire. And Iโ€™m asking how I can contribute to all those people using their talent and creativity to get there. Artists, entertainers, writers, policymakers, musicians, intellectuals, my cousin. Anybody.

How do notions of citizenship and public space figure in your practice?

Questions of citizenship and civic space naturally arise as themes in my work because thatโ€™s where we see the dissonance and, of late, the friction when it comes to autonomy over oneโ€™s right to occupy whatever space or ideology one chooses. Even if you donโ€™t understand the violence inherent in the Constitution, you can visibly comprehend these racial, political, and legal inequities playing themselves out in cities across the U.S. Kimberlรฉ Crenshawโ€™s voicing of the term โ€œintersectionalityโ€ is no longer abstract. The connection between the threads of this wicked problem โ€” race, class, gender, health, zip code, etc. โ€” are impossible to miss.ย 

Can you describe the project you are creating in response to the MoMA Reconstructions brief? Where is it and why did you choose that location?

Reconstructions of course allows us to revisit the Reconstruction era in American history as perhaps such a moment to answer or at least ask the questions Iโ€™ve laid out. So, beginning with more cursory questions of just โ€œspace,โ€ my project thinks about all the tools and fragments Black people might use to navigate their way to free space, which maybe is some extreme physical condition โ€” the open sea, outer space, or Kinloch, Missouriโ€™s first all-Black incorporated town. My project imagines how all of these sites are intertwined, and provides fragments of things I am using to make a new kind of map for hopefully a new kind of world. With that world I can talk about buildings. For now Iโ€™ve written prosaic directions to (free) Black space and, and, and...

Interview by Drew Zeiba
Video portrait by David Hartt
Editing by Jessica Lin
Music by King Britt presents Moksha Black

A PINโ€“UP production in partnership with Thom Browne

This video is part of a series of ten portraits David Hartt created for PINโ€“UP on the occasion of Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America at the Museum of Art (Feb 20โ€“May 31, 2021), curated by Mabel O. Wilson and Sean Anderson. The portraits were also published in the print edition of PINโ€“UP 29.