"This Is a Black Neighborhood": Prof. Martin's Installation Opens in Columbus

Assistant Professor Allie Martin has spent the summer in Columbus, Ohio, listening. It's an activity the ethnomusicologist and sound studies expert has quite a bit of practice with. In the same spirit as the award-winning work she's done in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, in Columbus Prof. Martin's ears—and audio recorders—have been aimed at Black neighborhood life, in all its fullness. Children at play, city buses, ice cream trucks, sounds of construction. A high-school drumline, a cookout, a giggle, a card game, a concert. With a fellowship as Aminah Robinson writer-in-residence at the Columbus Museum of Art, her listening has been paired with research, conversations with Columbus artists, and engagement with the original musical artworks that fill the home of the late Aminah Robinson, where Prof. Martin has been staying. 

To conclude her residency, Prof. Martin designed an interactive sound installation: This Is a Black Neighborhood, exhibiting at the Sarah Gormley Gallery in Columbus through August 25. It's a portrait of a neighborhood, with different sounds of Black urban life triggered as visitors move through the gallery. "The gallery is going to become an instrument that can be played depending on you how move," Prof. Martin said in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch. "I want people to play the room."

Prof Martin also spoke with WYSO, southwest Ohio's NPR member station, about her work's aspirations. "I want to make work that makes Black people feel safe and make Black people be able to sound without subjection because we rarely get to do that. Because Black neighborhoods get reduced to these murals and these plaques that say, 'This is a historically Black neighborhood,' but they don't actually want Black sound and Black people, and all of what comes with that. And so this show is to say, if there are enough people invested in hearing this life, then we can have it."

You can read the full Columbus Dispatch feature on Prof. Martin's installation here, and you can read or listen to her WYSO interview here. To see Prof. Martin at work, discussing her research and sound art process, you can view a video version of the article from the Columbus Dispatch.