YoU Dispatch Questionnaire: Alex Strada and Tali Keren

By Alex Strada & Tali Keren

September 1, 2022

At the conclusion of YoU, the Artists-In-Residence were asked seven questions about their experience and the overall mission of this collaborative program. Five artists shared their responses, which can be viewed in their entirety below. A large-format broadsheet was also produced to highlight a selection of answers and images that delve into the strengths and challenges of interconnectedness, and the continued work to be done within the institution. 

Caption: Self-defense workshop led by Deena Hadhoud of Malikah “Defending Our Bodily Autonomy in a Broken System”, February 2022.
Image Description: Five colorful banners hang from the ceiling reading “Proposal for a 28th Amendment?” And “Is it possible to amend an unequal system?” in the five most spoken languages in Corona, NY. Below the banners, a group of women and non-binary people are practicing self-defense moves while looking at a monitor. Deena Hadhoud is standing next to the monitor wearing a purple top and black pants, guiding the group on how to repeat the self-defense moves.

Question 1: Was there a relationship you built during YoU that impacted your work in a meaningful way?

Our exhibition opened with a Healing Justice Circle led by Malikah. Participants recorded their responses to the project’s questions and served as the first contributors to the soapbox oral archive. We closed the exhibition with a workshop co-produced with Malikah, “Defending our Bodily Autonomy in a Broken System: Reproductive Justice, Self-Defense and Community Care.” This program consisted of a lecture with CUNY Law Professor Cindy SooHoo on the inadequacies of legal protection for reproductive rights and what it would take for all people to experience reproductive justice. This was followed by a self-defense class for women and gender-expansive people led by Deena. 

The power of Malikah’s framework and its focus on collective gathering continues to inspire and we hope to grow our work with Malikah beyond YoU.

Question 2: Which theme was most relevant to your work throughout YoU?

We think of “care,” “repair,” “justice,” and “the future” as interdependent, imperative aspirations that artists can continually work towards. We incorporated overlapping strategies to engage these themes through our project which centers around two questions: What 28th Amendment would you propose? And is it possible to amend an unequal system? Central to the installation are sonic soapbox sculptures that build upon the history of the soapbox as a site of collective struggle, while also emphasizing listening, mutuality, and access— aesthetic decisions tied to “repair” and “care” work. Designs span an ADA-accessible soapbox, a daybed soapbox for political dreaming, and a 2-person for collective listening and dialogue. Each soapbox has a pair of headphones where visitors can listen to responses to the project’s questions and contribute by using the Recording Booth. 

Reflecting  “justice” and “the future”, we produced a series of vertical videos that depict the hands of legal scholars as they mark up, draw on, redact, and re-write the Constitution in relation to systemic racism, labor, the prison industrial complex, migration and borders, and the absence of all non-human animals and climate. The videos were available in multiple languages using an app called Gesso. 

Drawing from our experience as educators, we created a series of workshops with Queens-based community partners and legal scholars from the CUNY Law School. These gatherings bring people together to collectively consider, question, and debate systemic repair, radical change, and abolition to imagine more equitable futures.

Question 3: How has your work embraced uncertainty?

We approached our project as a container to be filled over time. We embraced the uncertainty of sharing a work that required participation to function. Opening without content, we relied upon colorful banners that posed open-ended questions in Spanish, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Bengali, and English to entice participants to add to the soapbox soundtrack. 

Creating this work during a painful pandemic, we learned to be flexible and deeply value when coming together is possible. Amidst a time of isolation, we got feedback from visitors that listening to the voices of people who occupied the space before them helped them to feel connected. 

Five colorful banners hang from the ceiling reading “Proposal for a 28th Amendment?” And “Is it possible to amend an unequal system?” in the five most spoken languages in Corona, NY. Below the banners, four visitors stand and lay on the five wooden colorful soapboxes in different arrangements.
Caption: Installation view, Alex Strada & Tali Keren: Proposal for a 28th Amendment? Is it Possible to Amend an Unequal System?, Queens Museum. Photo credits: Alex Strada & Tali Keren and Hai Zhang.
Image Description: Five colorful banners hang from the ceiling reading “Proposal for a 28th Amendment?” And “Is it possible to amend an unequal system?” in the five most spoken languages in Corona, NY. Below the banners, four visitors stand and lay on the five wooden colorful soapboxes in different arrangements.

Question 4: What are two things you learned from YoU?

As artists who spend years extensively researching and producing multi-chaptered projects, we felt very vulnerable putting a project out into the world so quickly into our residency. In the end, this was a valuable practice in letting go and trusting the process of inviting other people to “complete” the work. This is an approach we will continue experimenting with and that reflects our commitment to public engagement and working beyond individualist models of art-making. 

As art educators, we also found ways to incorporate experimental pedagogies that we typically explore in the classroom, in an exhibition context.

Question 5: What does a “community museum” mean to you?

A community museum is a space in motion, pivoting to engage and meet the needs of the people that live in its immediate vicinities and one that is willing to interrogate its own histories and labor practices. This work should take many forms including centering education, supporting emerging artists and the people that work at the museum, public practice beyond the white walls of the galleries, and direct action to benefit local communities (both human and nonhuman). At the Queens Museum, the La Jornada and Queens Museum Cultural Food Pantry and the Queens Teens’ art and social justice programming are prime examples.

In regards to our own practice, at a moment when there are bills proliferating across the country to whitewash American history and prevent teachers from discussing systemic oppression in their classrooms, we are interested in how artworks housed within cultural institutions can enable increasingly censored discourses to thrive.

Question 6: Did YoU change the way you exist within museums?

YoU expanded our scope of thinking about what is possible within a museum setting. While intimately aware of the settler-colonial, racist, patriarchal and capitalist histories and hierarchies that exist within cultural institutions, YoU invited us to consider how to transform museums into more just, equitable, and creative sites for community engagement. The questions our project poses – asking people to re-write U.S. law or if it is even possible to amend a system that from its founding is inherently unequal– in some ways mirrors the question of whether or not to repair museums or to reimagine new structures altogether. As artists, we have only begun to scratch the surface of these evolving questions and their dialectics, and it is collective work we are committed to.

Question 7: What do you think is the most important question or issue about the role of museums that arose during YoU?

YoU did so much to support artists and community partners, and to bring us together in conversation. The question now is how this work continues within the QM and beyond to sustain the meaningful connections that have only begun to emerge. Museums tend to follow the art market’s focus on new and more, rather than going deep and building long-term support with invested community members over time. The Queens Museum is one of the few willing to embrace long-term relationship building. What forms will the work initiated by the Year of Uncertainty continue to take in the years to come?