Germane Barnes Uneasy lies the head that wears the crownApril 27th - May 29th, 2021
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown is Barnes’ inaugural exhibition with Nina Johnson. We are delighted to be fostering this new partnership with the Miami-based architect. Just this week, Barnes was named a recipient of the prestigious Rome Prize and his work is currently on view at The Museum of Modern Art as part of Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America. Exhibited here are a series of six chairs, described by Barnes as part of an ongoing investigation into the porch and its spatial legacy in black communities. Each piece is handcrafted in South Florida out of wood and metal with an intricately woven seat.
In William Shakespeare’s play, King Henry IV, the title character says, “Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down! Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” King Henry is essentially stating that with great power comes great responsibility. Responsibilities that reverberate throughout his kingdom. If Shakespeare’s writing references responsibility and duty, then this interpretation is more than appropriate. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown is a referendum on Black hair and Black architecture.
The physical structure of the porch is a privately public threshold that separates the interior from the exterior. When placed adjacent to other porches, the amalgamation of forms become a larger object that provides surveillance, community, spectacle amongst other uses. Porches, whether formal architectural interventions or informal porch-like spaces, are means of congregation and social identity. Spaces that signify Blackness and community while also providing entry to issues of race, class and ethnicity.
Fabricated from metal, wood, and rope, the materials of the chair mimic the materials used to construct South Florida Shotgun vernacular of wood framed construction with sheet metal roofing. The slanted metal frame is similar to the slanted gable roof one would find atop the cottage. The milled wooden back post works as interior framing and is derived from combs used to style Black hair.
Its sleek frame is derived from the formal lounge chairs found in the Afro-Caribbean. The back support references the hair pick, a symbol of strength and Blackness. The ornament of each chair is inspired by activities unique to the African Diaspora like Church hats, Black power and Junkanoo Bands. The seat is woven to represent the hair, or crowns of black people.
These chairs are congregation. These chairs are identity. These chairs are home. Should one decide that the efforts to celebrate a missing component of architecture history is unnecessary or daunting, “then happy low, lie down! Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
Germane Barnes is an Assistant Professor and the Director of The Community Housing & Identity Lab (CHIL) at the University of Miami School of Architecture, a testing ground for the physical and theoretical investigations of architecture’s social and political resiliency. Barnes’ work has been exhibited at and written about most notably in, The Museum of Modern Art, The Graham Foundation, The New York Times, Architect Magazine, DesignMIAMI/ Art Basel, The Swiss Institute, Metropolis Magazine, Curbed, and The National Museum of African American History where he was identified as one of the future designers on the rise. Barnes is a recipient of the 2021 Rome Prize for Architecture and will have a solo exhibition in the Upstairs Gallery at Nina Johnson in 2022.
All quotes by Germane Barnes, 2021