On the Hammer’s sun-filled terraces, Lauren Halsey’s white tomb, which visitors can circumvent and enter, might give an equally doleful or elegiac impression, except for the inscriptions and images on its surface, which are a contemplative and celebratory tribute to the artist’s own South Central L.A. community—a neighborhood that has been wracked by rapid gentrification. Images of her family and friends are carved into the temple’s surface alongside storefront signs and what appear to be the names of local organizations—real or fictional—like The Black Women Coalition of Neighborhood Developers. Images of spaceships hover over Egyptian hieroglyphics, boomboxes, and pharaoh masks, connecting this part of Los Angeles with an ancestral past and future. Later this year, the installation will become a permanent fixture in the city when it goes up on Crenshaw Boulevard, at the site of an African market where Halsey spent time as a child—guaranteeing a solid anchor and gathering space for the local community.
The issue of contested land materializes elsewhere in the exhibition—for example, in Mercedes Dorame’s exploration of her community, the Tongva people, who are one of L.A.’s founding indigenous cultures. This theme often continues to intersect elsewhere with personal narratives. In a vault-shaped gallery,
has installed the abstracted trappings of an American college sports field, replete with a lawn, running track, and what appears to be an oversized, insurmountable hurdle. The walls are lined with photographs—shot by his collaborator
—that document Hill running around each school and institution he ever attended in Los Angeles, including UCLA. On a mock winner’s podium at the back of the space, Hill will stand for the duration of the exhibition, posed in front of a neon sign that roughly matches the outline of his body. It reads: “Where on earth, in which soils and under what conditions will we bloom brilliantly and violently?”
The piece, Excellentia, Mollitia, Victoria (2018), expresses the vulnerability and perseverance of one (black) body and soul in the face of the (white) systems, institutions, and sporting rituals that shape the United States—and the physical and emotional effort required to stay afloat in an environment where the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against people of color.