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Introducing: Harlem

I didn’t have the best introduction to Harlem.

My evening started at 7pm at the tour bus line in Midtown, in the rain. No matter: There were ponchos, and I had my Billingham.

Despite the deluge, I managed to sneak my camera out for a few snaps of the neon-lit city, but for most of the time I was too busy paying attention to the commentary.

(Even if you’re from New York, I bet you’d learn something on that tour.)

View of the (wet) city from the Manhattan Bridge

View of the (wet) city from the Manhattan Bridge

View of the (wet) city from the Manhattan Bridge

The Manhattan Bridge

Following the ride, I searched for the subway entrance. Searched and searched. Finally found one, only to realise it was heading downtown.

By the time I boarded the uptown train I was drenched, but the man next to me didn’t appear to mind as he leaned against my arm.

“Sorry, I’m drunk,” he said. Ah.

At every stop that flashed by, he asked me where we were.

Honestly, I had no idea; we were already ten blocks past my place.

I got off as soon as I could, and found myself in the heart of Harlem.

Some subway station

Some subway station

It was now 11pm on Saturday night, so chances of hailing a cab were slim.

Setting out on foot, I headed in the wrong direction for one block, and then in a different but still wrong direction for another block (damn those diagonal avenues).

Keep in mind: It’s still raining.

Of course, I made it home. Eventually. But I vowed to return to Harlem; the burb that got the better of me that night.

Near Harlem's edge

Near Harlem’s edge

I’d read of the Harlem Renaissance, and the stars it produced. I’d already seen Jacob Lawrence’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and was keen to see more.

Making a beeline for the Studio Museum on Sunday morning, I was distracted along the way by the African markets, hawkers, and preachers. The place was pulsing.

When Studio Museum opened in 1968, it was the first black fine-arts museum in America. Today, it provides a historical insight into African-American art and the art of the African diaspora.

The main exhibit was Trenton Doyle Hancock’s Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing.

The exhibition is the first in-depth examination of the artist’s body of drawings, collages and works on paper

The exhibition is the first in-depth examination of the artist’s body of drawings, collages and works on paper

Upstairs, human hair and nails featured in Salon Style – a collection of works exploring how beauty routines can portray one’s identity and personhood, however temporarily.

Downstairs, walls of deconstructed old encyclopedias and textbooks constituted Unbound, by Samuel Levi Jones. Torn covers were stitched to canvases in a grid-like formation; a rather radical criticism of the law and justice system with respect to human rights and social welfare.

The books have been stripped of their authoritative identity

The books have been stripped of their authoritative identity

Walking home, I recognised corners where I’d taken wrong turns the night before.

The sun was out, and I bought some kind of shaved ice dessert from a Spanish-speaking lady.

I didn’t like it, and it made my tongue green, but everyone else seemed to have one, and I liked the feeling of fitting in.

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