It was a hard year for the city of Nashville — from the tornado and the pandemic, to a summer of protests against police brutality and the downtown bombing. More than 150 local artists are looking back for the Frist’s new virtual exhibition, N2020: Community Reflections.
“It’s a reflection of the year 2020 through different mediums, such as dance, poetry, visual arts, murals and photography,” says guest curator Jay Jenkins, also known as Woke3.
While most of the featured work was created over the course of the last year, Woke3 asked spoken word artist Karimah Miller to write a poem for a series of photographs for the Frist exhibit.
Miller says the nearly 15-minute poem gave her the opportunity to reclaim the narrative of what the last year was like for Black Nashvillians.
“Now awake the aftermath, more real, 309 people injured and 25 killed. Mom and pop shops destroyed, what they’ve worked a lifetime for,” Miller says over top of a video slideshow of the tornado’s destruction. “Businesses no longer standing, some demolished. And North Nashville, barely being acknowledged. The news heavy out East and other parts of town, but over here, barely covered ground. Open wounds, leaving the community exposed. Disdain and bitterness continue to grow.”
She describes the community’s fear that developers would see the damage in historically Black North Nashville as an opportunity to further gentrify the area and displace residents. She goes on to recount George Floyd’s death, and the protests afterward.
“You think about 2020 being ‘perfect vision,’ ” Miller says. “It wasn’t what we thought it was going to be. The year started off nice and then the tornado, and then COVID. Dang, we went through all of that in one year, and we’re still here? We’re still pushing, we’re still moving?”
Another video by spoken word artist Twigz highlights the experience of essential workers going to work during the pandemic. Nurses and grocery store clerks stand among the shell of a dilapidated building. Twigz wears a shirt that reads ‘Essential’ on the front, and ‘Sacrificial’ on the back.
“She’s always just been a hot spitter,” Woke3 says. “Her lyrics, her flow, her style have always been dope.”
“You see my mama had odd jobs. Oddly they didn’t care about her odds,” Twigz says, with chains on her wrists from behind a barred door. “She was on a deathbed several times and couldn’t get a get-well card. They said ‘Retail don’t care about your tail. Better sell our customers that fairytale. Oh, you’re sick? We wish you well. Tell your kids we hope they fail so they can come and make your sell.’ Modern day jail, no bail.”
Woke3 says the challenges 2020 presented just added on to what many Nashvillians were already struggling with: gentrification, inequities, racism, and more.
“I really want folks to look within themselves. That was always my goal,” he says. “I wanted to look deeper within myself, and a lot of folks I know that have experienced this year, looking within themselves, they have a new understanding of themselves. That’s the message. Look within.”