Press Release: March Gallery, NY 2022
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Y. Malik Jalal has a problem. Many sleepless hours are spent online, on eBay specifically, cruising the found photography section, looking for images that resonate. Over the years he has honed his search terms: Graduation, Halloween, Funeral. Certainly, a snapshot never tells the full story, but he is looking for innocence and terror, fantastic and silly truths, people being at home in Black existence. Whether he wins the auction or not, he does not own the photographs. He is simply in service of them. And, make no mistake, it isn’t all fun; there is a heavy weight that comes from accepting the job as the custodian of someone else’s memories.
Let us stand with both feet upon the shoulders of the past and gather before us the events of today as an horoscope of time; and we will be able to detect and depict, in the gray dawn of the new morning, the events that will transpire and to read between the lines the story of the age.
– “What Shall the Harvest Be?” preached by Rev. J. W. E. Bowen; 1892
The church stands in the middle of a nearly empty block towards the edge of the town where the woods crowd against the worn pavement. It is small and wooden, and the peach paint shows signs of peeling. A look in any corner reveals that the foundation has started sagging. The exterior of the building bears a freshly painted pristine white box, a carefully lettered sign announcing that we are at Little Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church. Sunday worship begins at noon.
If you know your Old Testament, you might recall:
Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room And the bride out of her bridal chamber.
Come noon on any given Sunday, if you were to stand here on the edge of the woods to watch the parishioners assemble, you would see not a gathering of masses from the Old Testament but a clustering of a few–perhaps a dozen–Black people. And, if you remember your New Testament, you might consider Jesus’s promise that ‘’Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.’’
Jalal works in the legacy of Black craftsmanship. As both artist and professional metalworker, he bends iron with labor and prayer: a true human epic. Jalal is in service of a higher calling like those who came before him including Philip Simmons, the renowned Charleston artisan and blacksmith who passed on in 2009. Close your eyes and picture Charleston: the Southern belle snow globe where time stands still. The atmospheric brick streets, the carriage homes, the slender church towers, and the veranda-fronted mansion. The common thread is Simmons’ craft. Over his seven-decade career, he produced over five hundred pieces of ornamental wrought iron: gates, balconies, window grills, and fences. In some ways, he built the city that travel magazines have consistently named Best in the United States. In 1982, when he accepted a National Heritage Fellowship award from the NEA, he said, “My instrument is an anvil. I guess some of you have heard me play.” Jalal too plays the instrument of the anvil, but also the mouse and screen, a logical step toward the future of Black craft in the Southern United States.
Y. Malik Jalal was born in 1994 in Savannah, Georgia and is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Jalal earned a BA from Oglethorpe University in 2016. Previous solo exhibitions include Of Joy and Terror at the Coleman Art Center (York, AL), Altars to the Liver at Institute 193 (Lexington, KY), and A Study of the Supernatural Phenomena of Emergence at the Alabama Contemporary Art Center (Mobile, AL). His work was included in MARCH’s Pre-Renovation Potluck, as well as shows at the Atlanta Contemporary, Hi-Lo Press, Delaplane, and the Gallery by Wish, among others. Jalal has curated group exhibitions at The Hi-Lo Press and the High Rise Exhibition. His zine, A Brief History of the World Vol. 1, was released exclusively at For Keeps Books in 2020.