For some 40 years, Masjid At-Taqwa, a mosque on Fulton Street, has served as a haven for the Muslim community in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Purchased at auction in the early 1980s by an enterprising group of adherents, the mosque has in recent years been on the eye of real estate developers seeking to transform the aging building, with its distinctive polychrome marble facade, into luxury retail and housing projects.
Struck by the mosque’s impressive size and congregation, Aisha Amin, a Muslim-American documentary filmmaker, began acquainting herself with the people who populated the mosque for the weekly Friday prayers, eventually gaining enough of their trust to produce a short documentary, titled “Friday.”
Amin’s project — presented as an immersive installation — was among the 27 proposals chosen for The Shed’s second annual “Open Call” exhibition and performance series, which is currently on view at the center in Hudson Yards. The candidates, all of whom live in the city, were selected from some 1,500 applications. Of the 27 selected proposals, 11 visual artists offer up paintings, videos and installations on the Shed’s second floor.
Amin’s installation, “The Earth Has Been Made a Place of Prayer,” comprises four screens that play her documentary on a loop and are suspended above an array of prayer mats in neat rows. ” The work is at once a love letter to the people who welcomed her into their fold, a testament to the resilience of communities against gentrification, and, for Muslims, a functional place to offer prayers.
It is among several that capture the local ethos of the Open Call program, which offers up to $15,000 for new commissions from the selected artists, the overwhelming majority of whom are not represented by galleries and are presenting their works in a museum setting for the first time.
Anne Wu enlisted a Flushing-based fabricator to create a playful sculpture — a sort of massive jungle-gym made from stainless-steel fencing and PVC and Tyvek construction materials — that sports the distinctive chrome-like finish and filigreed designs that are immediately recognizable in Asian American residential neighborhoods in Queens. The specificity of this aesthetic to the Pan-Asian immigrant community, and Wu’s canny ability to present this aesthetic so succinctly and without irony in “A Patterned Universe,” suggests that the Shed’s generous commissions-based approach, which is juried by dozens of arts professionals across disciplines, yields generative results.
Indeed, it is in its generosity — of time, floor space, and funding — that the Shed succeeds. The works on view are generally large-scale, and the emphasis is clearly on video and new media installation, as seen by the slick production quality of video installations by Simon Liu, Le’Andra LeSeur, and Kenneth Tam, each of which hold their own among their peers. In his multichannel 16-millimeter film “Devil’s Peak,” Liu envelops the viewer in the sights and sounds of the civilian protests against the Hong Kong government’s proposed extradition bill in 2019 and 2020. Liu’s camera careens across the city and its many sites of violence to draw connections between people and the power they can wield when collectively organized in mass uprising.
Less successful is Caroline Garcia’s installation, with its disparate video, augmented reality, and ceramics that are combined in too convoluted of an assemblage to appreciate its purported subject of grief. That subject, however, is poignantly evoked in two paintings by Esteban Jefferson depicting the memorials to his friend, the artist Devra Freelander, who at age 28 was killed by a cement truck while cycling in 2019. Rendering bright sprays of funeral flowers on the street corner where Freelander died, Jefferson reminds us that the city is and has always been full of bright talent, some that have left too soon.
Through Aug. 1. The Shed, 545 West 30th St, Manhattan; 646-455-3494, theshed.com