And yet, “[f]rom these devalued spaces emerged some of America’s most valuable cultural contributions—the blues, jazz, the Harlem Renaissance, and hip-hop,” Cooke writes. “The porch, the hallway, the stoop, the corner—each became a site for newly adapted and improvised social activity.”
Considering new ways to support social activity and mobilize public space, Cooke looks to history. His project We Outchea: Hip Hop Fabrications and Public Space examines the history of two sites in Syracuse, New York: Pioneer Homes, one of the country’s first public housing projects created from a “slum-clearance initiative”; and the adjacent 15th Ward, a vibrant Black neighborhood that was demolished to make space for a highway. These stories of displacement continue to affect the city today as the Syracuse Housing Authority (SHA) makes plans for Blueprint 15, a development project that would once again uproot the city’s Black inhabitants.
Cooke describes his project as a “preemptive critique” of the SHA’s proposed plan for Pioneer Homes, as well as a celebration of Black culture. Inspired by the intersections of hip-hop and architecture (a theme centered in his forthcoming book Hip-Hop Architecture), Cooke uses “sampling” as a foundation for his work, borrowing from its rich musical context, which weaves past melodies into new songs. Cooke “takes [historical] layers, samples them, remixes them, and lays them back on top of an imagined projection for the area’s future.” As a result, We Outchea blends historical images with architectural renderings that reclaim public space for Black communities and refuse gentrification by boldly proclaiming, “This time we shall not be moved!”
Installation view of Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America
Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America is on view through May 31. You can now enroll in MoMA’s new online course, Reimagining Blackness and Architecture. Through original films, audio interviews, and short readings, the course will introduce learners to the ways in which Black artists, architects, scholars, and writers have responded to these histories of violence and exclusion to create new ways of being, reimagining the spaces that have refused us.
The exhibition is made possible by Allianz, MoMA’s partner for design and innovation.
Volkswagen of America is proud to be MoMA’s lead partner of education.
MoMA Audio is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.