black medusa
    There Goes the Neighborhood   Trust im   Sod Houses   entice/intice   TAR   Transmodern        
    With There Goes the Neighborhood , Zoë Charlton and Rick Delaney fashion a surreal, pseudo-suburban cul-de-sac, complete with real grass and a white picket fence. The residents , however, aren't rosy-cheeked children but hundreds of nordic garden gnomes with their skin painted black , open ing up a treasure chest of issues regarding the black middle class today : suburbia, self segregation, and the meaning of the American dream. That there are wide and rigid class distinctions within African American society is a longstanding fact which is deeply understood, if rarely discussed, among African Americans, and hardly even noticed among whites. Fine distinctions according to the color of one's skin (Charlton and Delaney's gnomes come in seven different shades) carry immense social significance. From the early days of the Great Migration, as blacks moved from Southern farms to Northern factories, they found small but prosperous groups of African Americans who'd been there for generations and were deeply afraid of what their country cousins might do. African American newspapers like Chicago's Defender carried articles celebrating the "New Negro" alongside editorials exhorting recent arrivals to wear shoes in the street, and generally comport themselves with dignity. Today Bill Cosby is on the lecture circuit, sparking controversy by saying much the same thing.          
    The neighborhoods formed in the wake of the Great Migration - Harlem, Bronzeville, Pennsylvania Ave. in Baltimore - started to break down in the 60's and 70's as blacks moved to the suburbs. Though a trickle at first, the trend has become a flood, with the number of suburban blacks doubling to 12 million in the past 20 years. The desire for a patch of grass in the right neighborhood - like the one Charlton and Delaney have planted - seems to be universal, but the class divisions wrought by self segregation resonate uniquely among African Americans, for whom solidarity has long been a necessity and Southern manners a cultural lodestone. For all their readiness to help with the lawn, Charlton and Delaney's Gnome-boys aren't likely to turn up in the yards of any black middle class homes. They are more like those country cousins, or collectibles from the arena of "black memorabilia," awkward objects that nonetheless command great prices among wealthy African American collectors, because they speak of a history they refuse to forget. Charlton and Delaney's gnomes are cheerful, but they dwarf the little pink houses around them; suburbia may be the topic of discussion, but race is the issue.          
    Jed Dodds
Artistic Director
Creative Alliance at The Patterson