I was at a Kara Walker exhibit with my two-year-old last summer feeling annoyed that I didn’t have anyone to talk to. Everyone else at the gallery seemed to have another adult with them. My son was the only kid there. We walked around everyone else’s whispered conversations as slowly as we could while I held him on my left hip.
Then my son said “ooh ooh ahh ahh,” like a monkey. I looked over to see that he was pointing to a little boy sitting in a tree in the top right corner of one of her pieces entitled U.S.A. Idioms. I couldn’t believe it. There I was thinking I was alone again at yet another art show. Meanwhile, the first thing the person I brought said since we arrived—between all the contrasting imagery of human life—is that he found an animal.
My first reaction was to say that he was right. He could be a monkey. But Kara Walker usually doesn’t do animals, so I mentioned that it could be a kid. He repeated “kid” back to me while we looked at him for another moment. When I started thinking out loud about how it was probably meant to be unclear in order to challenge stereotypical perceptions of blackness in the U.S., he had already looked away at something else.
I learned something that day about who I was bringing along with me to these types of art events. From plays to festivals to gallery openings, I have a person around who is so new to the world. He’s figuring things out as he goes whether I’m paying attention or not. Going to events with him began as a necessity but has evolved into complex experiences that I never expected to have.
I’ll be writing about events in the Newark like this one. “Freeloading” will be a column on BrickCityLive.com that looks at (usually cheap) art events through the lens of motherhood and access. These essays are a sort of personal review—a reflection of my experience there, often with my son. My readings of these events are not a judgement on if they are good or bad, but rather how the art affects our experiences there.
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