This site-specific installation by Kameelah Janan Rasheed (b. 1985) challenges a centered approach to knowledge. Built in 1846, this temple-like rotunda originally served as Williams College’s first library, with a circulation desk at the center of the room and bookshelves radiating inward from the perimeter. Drawing on the history of the site, Rasheed thinks with Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), whose story “The Library of Babel,” imagines a place holding all possible books which contain all possible knowledge. Rasheed brings Borges’s ideas together with religious scholar Ashon Crawley’s claim that: “as centrifugitive, black thought does not privilege any notion of centering but is constantly erasing, revising, undoing, unsaying any resting on or in fullness, completion.”1
Rasheed’s text circling the room’s baseboards visually and conceptually interprets Borges’s description of the imagined library as “unlimited and cyclical.”2 The format of the exhibition, with fragments of ideas and phrases scattered throughout, encourages visitors to wander. In its refusal of resolution, Rasheed’s installation troubles the notions of completion, comprehensiveness, and familiarity that often typify both academic and religious institutions—inviting us instead to explore wayward ways of seeing and knowing.
Organized as part of the Williams College Graduate Program Contemporary Curatorial Workshop by Mallory Cohen, MA ‘20, Nidhi Gandhi, MA ‘20, Elyse Mack, MA ‘20, and Sinclair Spratley, MA ‘20 with Lisa Dorin, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Contemporary Art
1 Ashon Crawley, “That There Might Be Black Thought: Nothing Music and the Hammond B-3,” CR: The New Centennial Review 16, no. 2 (Fall 2016): 145.
2 Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel,” in Collected Fictions trans. Andrew Hurley (New York: Penguin Books, 1999).