Friday, February 12, 2010

Willie Little's Juke Joint at YMI

Asheville is very privileged to have Juke Joint -- a multi media installation by Willie Little-- on display at the YMI Cultural Center this month. The installation is a recreation of the grocery that Little's father operated in the late 60's. Viewing it is a rather haunting experience -- especially when you're by yourself, walking through the maze of walls configured out of remnants of the original Little's Grocery juke joint. Life sized characters in tattered garb swig gin, chain smoke, and dance around a jukebox that plays Otis Redding. Little neither romanticizes or vilifies his cast of characters and I think this is what I liked best about the exhibit.

Walking through the installation was also a bit discomforting -- like I was walking into someone else's story where I didn't belong. I thought about the fetishization of the African American experience, and the objectification of marginalized cultures. I thought about the fact that the only way I would ever get close to such a lifestyle is via a prefabricated experience in a gallery, or perhaps a video documentary.

Little writes:
Juke joints were an anomaly particular to the Black experience. During the day, my father’s place was known as Little’s Grocery. But when night fell, so did its mask of civic purpose. People stole in from across the county for a little gin, a little dancing, a little romancing. “The Store” was a physical metaphor for the masks upon masks that people of color have always had to wear in a country that actively relegated their existence to the darkest corners, the darkest hours.

To produce "Juke Joint" Little was awarded a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. The installation has traveled and been exhibited nationally in places such as The Smithsonian Institution, Arts & Industries Gallery, Washington DC, and the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri

Learn more about the exhibit in this fascinating write up by Billy Kopp for the Mountain Xpress

You can find a more detailed explanation and pictures on this page of Little's website.

To see more of Little's artwork visit

The installation will be on display at The YMI Cultural Center on Eagle Street until March 28th.


Short Street Cakes said...

So excited that it's still here! I thought I missed it! PS lets go to the florida panhandle- I'll take you to a juke joint.

pop art said...

"Juke Joint" is so cool, i wish i was there :(
thanks for sharing this ;)