New Brooklyn art space launches exhibit celebrating the birthdays of people of color killed by police violence

Four years after its inception in 2018, Worthlessstudios has found a new home in Brooklyn in a 10,000 square foot warehouse on the border of East Williamsburg and Bushwick. The non-profit organization was formed to provide artists with the resources, space and technical support to bring their ideas to fruition. She supports projects in New York and beyond with pop-up exhibitions and touring film series. His latest endeavor will also be his greatest. Teased with a phone booth pop-up at the New Art Dealers Alliance (Nada) trade show in New York last spring, 1-800 Happy Birthday (September 23 – December 31) is Worthlessstudios’ first major exhibition celebrating the lives of people of color killed by police violence.

The exhibition expands on a digital archive developed in 2020 by creative studio Even/Odd and its founder and creative director Mohammad Gorjestani. As a digital project, 1-800 Happy Birthday acts as a repository for voicemails left by friends, family and strangers to celebrate the lives lost, referred to as celebrants rather than victims. The project is a memorial and channel through which conversations about racial and social justice can continue long after public protests and media coverage have subsided.

The exhibition in Worthlessstudios’ new space gives physical form to the project and was organized in collaboration with the families of the revelers. Curated by Klaudia Ofwona Draber under the artistic direction of the nonprofit’s founder, Neil Hamamoto, is the impetus for 1-800 Happy Birthday reflects the Worthlessstudios ethos. “1-800 Happy Birthday is the ultimate embodiment of our mission,” says Hamamoto. “The transformation of artist Mohammad Gorjestani’s digital project into a large-scale, interactive installation challenges the public by inviting them to engage in a conversation about systemic racism through art and art-making.”

1-800 Happy BirthdayWorthlessstudios and Even/Odd. Courtesy of Worthlessstudios

The exhibition takes the form of an urban community space, complete with benches, a bodega, and a brownstone facade and porch. Twelve phone booths, similar to Nada’s, will surround a central meeting space, with the booth being installed in a Brooklyn park to promote the exhibit to the local community. The phone booths will be decorated with commemorative souvenirs such as flowers, as well as impressive personal items from the life of the revelers. The show honors Dujuan Armstrong, Sandra Bland, Philandro Castile, Stephon Clark, Fred Cox, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Xzavier Hill, Donovon Lynch, Sean Monterrosa, Tony Robinson and Mario Woods. A 32-foot mural by Kenyan artist “Art1 Airbrush” Lawton, featuring portraits of the revelers, will run the length of the exhibition space.

Visitors can purchase items from the makeshift bodega to add to the memorials, including flowers, birthday cards, and prayer candles, as well as classic kiosk items like candy and sodas. Proceeds will be split evenly among charities chosen by the families of the celebrants.

In addition to the interactive elements, there will be a living room in the exhibition that offers visitors a place to pause and reflect. The living room will also provide resources for healing and suggestions for further action. The September 23 public exhibition opening will be a community celebration with birthday cakes created by Executive Chef DeVonn Francis of Caribbean caterers Yardy. The Worthlessstudios will also host celebrants’ families for public and private events throughout the weekend. Programming will continue throughout the runtime of the show.

Detail from 1-800 Happy BirthdayWorthlessstudios and Even/Odd. Courtesy of Worthlessstudios

“A trademark program of 1-800 Happy Birthday Family reunion: an open discussion with mothers and families who have lost loved ones to police violence,” says Marcia Santoni, CEO of Worthlessstudios. “In this conversation series, moderated by the Reverend Wanda Johnson (mother of Oscar Grant), panelists will share their stories of seeking justice, healing and memories of family members, as well as resources on ways the public can support the legacy of their loved ones .”

Worthlessstudios’ decision to open in East Williamsburg is an important step in revitalizing the creative community that has shrunk as a result of the pandemic. “By opening here, we are able to support artists, fabricators and makers in a neighborhood that has historically been home to such businesses and ateliers,” says Santoni. “The pandemic prompted artists and makers to leave Brooklyn in unprecedented numbers. By embracing, sustaining and building this creative community, Worthless can continue to support artists while engaging the public with large-scale projects and exhibitions.”

  • 1-800 Happy BirthdaySeptember 23, 2022-16. January 2023 at Worthlessstudios, 7 Knickerbocker Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.

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