A meditation on the transmission of history through poetry
Charting the essential connection between poetry and activism, this exhibition of works by Berlin-based artist Bouchra Khalili (Moroccan, b. 1975) bridges discourses of resistance from the 1960s to the present. Making its US debut at the MFA, Khalili’s Twenty-Two Hours (2018) is a testament to her deep research into the Black Panther Party in New England and their unexpected ally, the French poet Jean Genet.
In 1970, Genet toured the US in support of the Panthers, delivering his first speech in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Khalili recently completed a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. In Twenty-Two Hours, two young Bostonians, Quiana Pontes and Vanessa Silva, perform on camera in Cambridge, combining fragments of images, sounds, memories, and film footage to retell the story of Genet’s visit and reflect on the civic poet as a witness to history. The film also features Doug Miranda, a former member of the Black Panther Party involved in organizing Genet’s East Coast tour, who recounts his involvement with Genet and reflects on his own history as an activist.
In addition to Twenty-Two Hours, the exhibition includes Khalili’s new short film The Typographer (2019), which depicts a letterpress that typesets the last sentence Genet wrote during his lifetime. While Genet was known to the world as an avant-garde writer, typography was the only profession in which he received formal training. Displayed alongside a take-away newsprint publication on Khalili’s practice and research into the Panthers, the film highlights the essential role of the printed word in disseminating revolutionary ideas. Together, the exhibition’s three components act as a meditation on the intergenerational transmission of history and the role of international solidarity in the continued struggle for equality.