In "Mutualities," Cauleen Smith's solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art—also her first one-person-show at a major New York City institution—the Los Angeles-based artist created immersive installations for two of her video works: Pilgrim (2017) and Sojourner (2018).
Either piece, in its own way, relays a pilgrimage of sorts. At the same time, the narratives weave together writings by such Black luminaries as Sojourner Truth, the Combahee River Collective, and Alice Coltrane.
The artist, in Pilgrim, and an ecstatic group of women of color, as depicted in Sojourner, pay tribute to sites of Black world-building—from Coltrane's Turiyasangitananda Vedantic Center, to Simon Rodia's Watts Towers, to Rebecca Cox Johnson's Shaker community. In Pilgrim, for instance, haloes and penumbras of light fleck the slow-roving 16mm camera, imparting a sense of nostalgia—even as the film imagines an Afrofuturism where, the artist says, "the least among us can have space to feel like their whole selves." A fuzzy blue couch—informally dubbed 'Cookie Monster'—signifies Smith's hope for the experiential installation, through which she intends to convey a message in support of the ethics of care and communality.
Cauleen Smith, Pilgrim, 2017 (still). Video, color, sound; 7:41 min. Whitney Museum of American Art; purchase, with funds from the Film and Video Committee.