“Didacting!” Shellyne laughs, hard. “My shit is didactic, baby!” And it is, in the way of a fetish: it’s teaching even though you have to figure out what and how to learn, and bear weighty consciousness rather than carry facts. Didacting.
–– Ruth Wilson Gilmore
P·P·O·W is pleased to present Third World Mixtapes: The Infrastructure of Feeling, Shellyne Rodriguez’s (b. 1977) first solo exhibition with the gallery. In her highly detailed colored pencil drawings on black paper, the Bronx-based artist, educator, writer, and community organizer, stewards the stories of people that have shaped her lived experience. Engaging with the legacy of the Ashcan School, who bore witness to the rise of the modern metropolis and its effects on the poor and working classes in New York, Rodriguez views figures such as Alice Neel, Jane Dickson, and Martin Wong as extensions of this tradition and situates her practice alongside them. In twenty-two new portraits and landscapes, Rodriguez portrays the intellectuals and insurgents who have shaped her sociopolitical thinking and documents the diverse social fabric of the South Bronx. Together, the works form what Rodriguez describes as an “expression of love for life and the people around me striving to live it” and they present a curriculum intended to spark the dynamic analysis of relationships and the creation of connections across siloed forms of knowledge.
For Rodriguez, the landscape of the Bronx represents “a Third World at the periphery,” an enclave of varying global diasporas and displaced peoples, who make home just miles from the operating centers of capitalism. Documented in Rodriguez’s drawings is the insistence of life and the continuing potential for an interconnected struggle that is at once global and local. In Gemelos (Ibeji), 2022, twin boys from Haiti grin atop the playground slide; in Uncle’s Jack Fruit Hustle, 2022, an older Bangladeshi man stands at the corner he has stood selling fruit for years; and in Barry lines dem up, 2023, a local barber’s haircutting cape becomes a subversion of bourgeois aspirations. Certain portraits within the exhibition zoom in on various radical scholars in Rodriguez’s community. In Ruth Wilson Gilmore's Syllabus in Rehearsal, 2023, Rodriguez draws one of her mentors, the abolitionist, activist, and writer Ruth Wilson Gilmore, standing alongside the literary building blocks of her educational arsenal. Borrowing the exhibition’s subtitle from a term coined by Gilmore, “the infrastructure of feeling” is a consciousness foundation, built by the accumulated histories of Black radical place making “even under extreme constraint” to create pockets of freedom.
In three large-scale, diagrammatic drawings, Rodriguez maps the visual lexicon of this infrastructure. Inspired by early 1980’s hip-hop event flyers by the Bronx-based artist Buddy Esquire, the series’ architectural framing “rejects any notion of nostalgia about hip hop’s origin story, and instead sees it alive and constantly shape shifting, mirroring the migrants and diasporas that call the Bronx home today as well as the descendants of those Black New Yorkers, West Indians, and Puerto Ricans who built it.” Reflecting the sampling and remixing inherent in the music and aesthetics of early hip-hop jams, works such as BX Third World Mix Tape no. 4, Caminos (Slow and Steady), 2022 leverage words, symbols, and figures to communicate the balance and unity created by a multitude of intersecting life paths traversing time, space, and cultures. Depicting different forms of movement New Yorkers see each day, Rodriguez intersperses this composition with the phrase, “together but separate and in agreement,” in the languages of various diasporas taken from the Zapatista parable “The Story of Questions.”
Rodriguez ultimately views her work as a political education tool. Creating room for inclusion and solidarity, one of the exhibition spaces will also act as a reading room where visitors are invited to engage with physical copies of Rodriguez’s syllabi. The reading room will serve as a stage for Rodriguez to engage with fellow radicals in conversation and host teach-ins over the course of the exhibition. The current schedule of events is available to download below. The gallery guide, available at the front desk, includes an essay on the exhibition by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, along with descriptions, diagrams, a bibliography, and a playlist.