When the rapper Kendrick Lamar, who grew up in Los Angeles’ Compton neighborhood, was tapped to support Kanye West on his 2013 Yeezus tour, he asked the artist Kahlil Joseph to create a video installation for his hour-long set that would hold up against West’s blue-chip collaborations with everyone from Vanessa Beecroft to Martin Margiela. “Kanye goes all out with these high-concept artists,” says Joseph, “and Kendrick didn’t know what to do.” So the L.A.-based artist put together an hour of footage he shot in Compton that tells the story of the rapper’s home turf—real parties, simulated shootings, old family footage from Lamar’s archives—to accompany the set of songs from good kid m.a.a.d. city, Lamar’s very autobiographical album.
While he was editing the video, Joseph’s brother, the painter Noah Davis, suggested that he show the work at The Underground Museum, Davis’s gallery-cum-studio space in historic West Adams. With the help of the installation specialists Commonwealth Projects, who work with artists like Doug Aitken and Isaac Julien, Joseph turned the project into a two-channel video, which was shown at a group exhibition at Underground last August. “As a filmmaker, I’ve always been left cold by video art,” says Joseph. “But this had some energy.” So he blew up the projection into stratospheric proportions in a show that opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Grand Avenue space last Friday, March 20.
Double Conscience is named after W.E.B. DuBois’s term for the internal struggle of African-Americans—namely, the divide between African heritage and an American consciousness. In Joseph’s two-channel installation, Aitken-esque aerial views of the city bleed into somber pans across churches and cheerful scenes at public pools. There’s archival footage of gunplay and lowriders, and hypnotic shots of shirtless men dancing, or strolling the L.A. River, to Lamar’s raps about money and power. “It’s this duality that is very central to the black experience in this country,” Joseph explains. “If everything was good all the time, you don’t know what it’s all about.”
“Kahlil Joseph: Double Conscience” runs through August 16 at MOCA Grand Avenue, 250 S. Grand Ave.