press release

making home here Mattress Factory September 3, 2021–April 10, 2022

The Mattress Factory presents making home here, an exhibition featuring five Pittsburgh-based artists who explore concepts of home as a site of both belonging and dislocation. The title of the exhibition is drawn from a passage in bell hooks’ Appalachian Elegy (2012), a poetry collection in which the author reflects on her experience as a Black woman finding home in the backwoods of Kentucky. In making home here, Gavin Andrew Benjamin, Naomi Chambers, Justin Emmanuel Dumas, Njaimeh Njie and Harrison Kinnane Smith explore liminality, placemaking, familial bonds and systemic racism’s impact on the housing market.

Working across a range of mediums and playing off the domestic spaces of the Mattress Factory’s Monterey Annex, the artists mine personal and public histories to create immersive environments that encourage contemplation of what it means to create a home.

Artists: Gavin Andrew Benjamin, Naomi Chambers, Justin Emmanuel Dumas, Njaimeh Njie, Harrison Kinnane Smith

making home here is curated by Sean Beauford and Sylvia Rhor Samaniego.

Gavin Andrew Benjamin, Living in Eden
With a series of 12 photographic panels, Gavin Andrew Benjamin examines the impact of colonialism, mass media and the lived environment on the identities of Black and immigrant people. The images collaged with pages from home catalogs, news articles and self-portraiture offer an introspective look into Benjamin’s experience as a Guyanese-born Pittsburgh resident, code-switching between domestic and public spaces.

Naomi Chambers, Black Community Survival Conference Tea Party Ice Cream Social Moonlit Cinema
Naomi Chambers draws upon the Black Panther Party’s Black Community Survival Conferences of the 1970s and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to imagine a modern convening where love, light, food and play are emphasized as necessities for the Black community to survive and thrive. Chambers invites us to a wonderland of assemblage, paintings, sculpture and animation, and asks us to think about the ways we can come together to care for each other.

Njaimeh Njie, “Did you get everything?”
Njaimeh Njie’s two room installation transports visitors to the familiar setting of a living room and kitchen filled with relatives, overflowing with conversation and laughter. Moving boxes, suitcases, and walls showing where pictures used to live, allude to the precarity of housing for Black families in Pittsburgh. “Did you get everything?” prompts consideration for the memories, traditions and lessons we take with us when we leave our homes.

Justin Emmanuel Dumas, Good/Bones
In Good/Bones, Justin Emmanuel Dumas builds the interior and exterior of a home, centering its threshold as a meditation on liminality. In this installation that visitors must traverse twice to exit, Dumas considers the hero’s journey and the transformation that occurs between departure and return. The repurposing of architectural remnants positions them to be thought of beyond their traditional use and instills the idea of looking closer, acknowledging what is typically overlooked.

Harrison Kinnane Smith, Sed Valorem
Sed Valorem is a financial intervention in which Harrison Kinnane Smith arranged for the Mattress Factory to mortgage its property—a former home in a still residential neighborhood where the exhibition occurs—to reimburse a nearby Black homeowner for all excessive property taxes he will pay over the next 15 years as a result of racially discriminatory practices. Smith’s installation uses sculpture, video, photography and legal documents to demonstrate how Black homes are commercially devalued and subject to higher taxation.