Close your eyes, and remember.
(When you close your eyes) you feel your heart go there
So close your eyes and you may find that
Fireflies were as bright as stars - close your eyes and remember
Summertime lingered on and on - close your eyes and remember
Your first love made the world stand still - close your eyes and remember
Close your eyes and remember
Close your eyes and remember (Remember when...)
-Minnie Riperton, Close Your Eyes and Remember, 1970
Jamal transforms the medium of photography by bending its parameters. He works with archival photographs borrowed from his family albums intermixed with images from his own photographic practice. With this juxtaposition, he situates himself securely upon the vein connecting photography to memory, expanding that connection beyond the purely visual.
Jamal grounds his practice in specific media related to Black and Queer identity. In Minnie Riperton’s “Close Your Eyes and Remember” from the album Come To My Garden, she invites listeners to revisit the past in an attempt to conjure up the transformative power of memory. Riperton’s invitation to remember echoes the words of Jafari S. Allen, who states in his book There’s a disco ball between us: a theory of Black gay life that the Black Queer community has a responsibility to remember and engage with the past for the purpose of guaranteeing a progressive future. Borrowing from these ideas, Jamal’s work asks us to set aside the notion of memory as fixed and discrete, and instead create space for its fluidity as it moves through time and is recontextualized through the present moment.
In his photographs, Jamal returns to the land where his great-grandmother’s house once stood. The home itself burned down in 2021, but its architecture lives on through Jamal’s memory and imagination. He describes this home as a monument to resilience, tenacity, and exhaustion, as well as a space to put order to his own story. The quest for home and solidity is a constant within Jamal’s practice. By collaging family photographs with his own contemporary imagery, he recontextualizes the past, creating a tangible throughline to the present.
Jamal approaches each photograph as both an image and a physical object that will gradually change over the course of decades. He highlights the formal qualities of these imperfections; in one collage he shows the backside of a photograph which had been used to keep score in a forgotten card game. Such marks, tears, or discolorations denote the passage of time and the lives lived around and within the photographs. His sculptural works, in which he submerges instant Polaroid prints into poured cement moulds, emphasize the physicality of the photographs. The images at times peek out from the concrete, other times there is no visible sign of the image within. Concrete denotes urban progress, but in Jamal’s practice we see greater emphasis placed on its entropy. The gradual breakdown of the concrete is inherent to the works themselves, foregrounding the passage of time with the understanding that eventually all of the lives within the photographs will once again be made visible.
The exhibition is funded in part by the Divided City Grant. The Divided City is an urban humanities initiative, a joint project of the Center for the Humanities and the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, College of Architecture, and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design at Washington University in St. Louis. The Divided City is funded by the Mellon Foundation.