« The Edge of LegibilityKameelah Janan Rasheed
One of five new films from Art21’s fall 2021 programming
logo·phile | \ ˈlȯ-gə-ˌfī(-ə)l : a lover of words. A self-described “learner,” immersed in books since childhood, text-based artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed is uniquely fascinated with the written word and its power to both define and destabilize how we understand the world. Rasheed photocopies pages from books and printed materials, cuts out words and sentences, and re-arranges them in poetic, provocative, or even confusing combinations. The resulting sprawling wall collages, billboards, films and public installations encourage viewers to do the work of understanding. “It’s really an invitation,” says Rasheed, “Come think with me.” This short documentary film explores the artist’s expansive ideas and miniaturist process in her book-filled, Brooklyn home studio; the film’s exclusively close up style mirrors Rasheed’s own preoccupation with fragments, slowly building up a portrait over time.
From her studio, Rasheed sorts through stacks of childhood drawings and family photographs while recounting her father’s conversion to Islam in the early 1980s. His method of note taking, excerpting, and annotating inspired Rasheed’s own artistic practice. “I was thinking of this idea of talking back to a text,” says the artist, “Each time we read something, we’re annotating on the page or in our heads and creating a new text. It’s this act of collaboration between the reader and the writer.” At work on a new piece, Rasheed searches her books for specific shapes and styles of lettering, rather than particular words. She pieces together these fragments into longer phrases and sentences, intuitively creating combinations that code or complicate that which could be said plainly. Rather than jumping to understanding, viewers are invited to move more slowly and engage with works over and over again to create layers of meaning. For Rasheed, this approach also presents a powerful possibility for how we can publicly move through the world and create a kind of self-protection. “I think a lot about what it actually means to make myself legible,” says the artist. “How you present yourself to the world that’s legible and appealing to people, versus I’m not gonna make myself known until I’m ready.” »