Black Germantowners share thoughts around rest as resistance in connection to the now-finished Supine Horizons exhibition.
It starts with “supine,” meaning lying on one’s back. And it ends with “horizons,” which could also mean lying down but correspondingly implies a sense of renewal, according to this art exhibition’s curator. The Supine Horizons exhibition opened early November at the KDD Theatre in Germantown. Unlike any other art exhibition in the Philadelphia area, Supine Horizons didn’t invite you to consume but rather to rest and renew. Yesterday, it took its final bow with a booked-out day.
The art exhibit is a product of Philadelphia Contemporary and was designed under the curatorial direction of Nicole Pollard, with Gralin Hughes Jr. as the artist for the ambient soundscapes and visuals that help set the stage for the exhibit. Inside the exhibition, guests are invited to remove their shoes, put up their personal belongings, and enter a dimly lit space with pieces of furniture to rest on for an hour. There are no rules, but a sign in the front of the area reminds you to “rest and allow.”
Alongside the regular visiting hours and reservations, Supine Horizons also hosted a series of free programming sessions like yoga, acupuncture, live performances, and other activities.
Supine Horizons is inspired in part by the work and research of Black women leading this ancient sector of contemporary Black liberation work, including Nap Ministry founder, poet, and writer, Tricia Hersey, author and rest coach Octavia Raheem, who hosted a “Rest-shop” for the exhibit’s programming, and many more. The experience reminds people of what Hersey says in her new book “Rest is Resistance,” “Rest is not a luxury, a privilege, or a bonus we must wait for once we are burned out… Rest is not a privilege because our bodies are still our own, no matter what the current systems teach us.”
Instead, rest is a birthright and rejection of grind culture, which, informed by capitalism, tells people they should constantly be working and creates a false sense of steady urgency. In response to grind culture, rest is the “ultimate form of self-care and community healing,” as stated in the resource book available to the public.
On November 17, the Germantown Info Hub Hour invited Pollard and Hughes to speak about the “rest as art” experience. Pollard named the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice uprisings as another integral piece of inspiration behind the exhibition.
“I think people were really becoming aware of how we were doing too much,” Pollard says. “And how the many systems in our world, such as health care and the service industry, were really kinda at odds with our well-being and particularly weren’t in service to people of color, and Black people in particular. And also just how quickly we were moving in order to contribute to this large and messy system that is capitalism and how it really is ingrained in our bodies that we need to keep moving. We need to keep grinding and hustling in order to achieve this, you know, unimaginable thing.”
The ties between capitalism/grind culture and Black people aren’t new. The link is rooted deeply in the early oppression of Black folks in America, dating back to the enslavement of our African ancestors. As Hersey states in her book, “Black people have a direct connection to the brutality of capitalism. Our bodies were America’s first capital, and our rest and DreamSpace are stolen constantly.”
So what is the value of an immersive space like Supine Horizons? What can people learn from this? And what does it mean to the Black residents in the neighborhood where it was piloted? I spoke with several Black Germantown neighbors to talk about Supine Horizons, rest, and grind culture, and here’s what they shared.
Rest spaces are crucial because they challenge us to slow down.
During the interview mentioned earlier, Pollard and Hughes areed that putting rest into everyday practice is not just something you fall right into — it’s a journey. Keeping in mind how deeply embedded always having to be in motion is, people don’t always know how to slow down. Having a space dedicated to resting makes people do absolutely nothing but exist.
Urban farmer and Germantown neighbor Pinder elaborates on these thoughts, saying, “We all have the opportunity to sit down and meditate. But how hard it is for some of us to get out of our thoughts? And sometimes, we need that external push or encouragement to make us leave those things at the door.” Pinder compared Supine Horizons to flotation therapy, not in the sense of sensory deprivation but more in the importance of having nothing to do.
Neighborhood artist Nomad says the space made him consider the need for schools to introduce rest periods and spaces into youth curriculums. He says there is a clear transition that children go through when the daily staple of recess is taken away. He says this entrenches a constant work day into young people unconsciously as early as middle school.
Right now, there is no mandate requiring recess for school kids, but there have been recent advocacy and discussions to require at least 30 minutes of recreational time. But Nomad envisions spaces aside from recess that allows children and teenagers to practice stillness.
“We see that people need to release this energy or take a rest,” Nomad says. “Why is it the older we get, these things become less? The priority becomes less and less when it’s seen that these things are extremely essential. [Students] should have a period where you can go and take a rest, or meditate, and just be quiet and be still.”
Resting disrupts the harmful tropes and generational cycles.
The “strong Black woman” trope is a consistent theme if you have ever consumed television or movie media. The trope sends the message that Black women triumph regardless of circumstance because of an impenetrable will and resilience that they carry. A famous reference is Celie from The Color Purple, as Celie endures years of abuse and conflict from those around her but remains optimistic no matter what. While a trope, these damaging narratives have some degree of validity.
It is the cycle of constant work to survive that grind culture has forced us to accept as the norm that Black people see from generation to generation that helps keep harmful tropes in the media. Krystal Dillard is the executive director of the Natural Creativity Center. Dillard talks about how the historical aspiration of the “American Dream” is a source of this destructive culture of capitalistic ritual.
“[Grind culture] is what fuels it. That’s what keeps it going,” Dillard says. “There has to be something that keeps us [working]. And I think that the American Dream is the dangling carrot that we’re running after.”
Dillard was candid about seeing how her mother’s hard work ethic shaped her early thoughts of being on the grind. She recalls her mother working for Johnnie Cochran as his legal secretary, a very demanding job. But no matter the demand, her mother did it. She says by the time her mother was 35 years old, her professional life began to ruin her personal life, and she developed addiction issues.
Dillard also speaks about how Black folks are unconsciously taught to measure their worth materially by trying to better their situation, especially financially. She attributes the taught “need” for degrees and high-paying jobs as two aspirations that Black people are ingrained with at a very young age. “What starts to happen is you think that that is where your worth and where your value is going to come in this world,” she says. “Do more, earn more, and show more.”
While she has her own experiences with grind culture and its generational effects, Dillard says she has seen more of a rejection of this narrative because of the detection of fraud from what grind culture or “the American Dream” has tried to present to people. She says, “We started grinding, and we’re disappointed. What you sold us didn’t work. And what you sold us that sometimes came from our parents didn’t work. They told us to do these things, and then we’re gonna “make it,” but we’re here, and we’re tired. We’re burnt out.”
Dillard says that generational burnout causes deep stress and trauma to the body and that if we want to begin healing, “we’re going to have to start with the body, and the body needs rest as the very foundational place to start.”
Slowing down could support health and wellness.
The constant need to work leaves little room for individuals to interrogate their health. Resting and slowing down could be a step towards increasing the health and wellness of people, particularly Black people, according to one of our neighbors.
Referring back to sentiments around generational cycles promoting a destructive work culture, Pinder speaks about the physical manifestation of how a lack of rest is detrimental to the body. She says, “in my opinion, it’s killing us. We’ve got high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, early onset death, and we’re abusing substances left and right because of all the weight that we are carrying.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that the conditions Pinder mentioned are leading causes of death in Black Americans. And while it seems Black folks are living longer, they are being diagnosed with chronic illnesses at higher rates than white Americans. The CDC confirms that these disparities can result from social and economic conditions.
Pinder says that as a Black woman, she knows how a lack of rest causes body pain. “As a person with a womb, I know that is where we hold hurt, anger, trauma, and stress,” she says. “And I have experienced that. I know what it feels like for my womb to be angry and rebelling because we don’t acknowledge what we’re going through. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our bodies are telling us and giving us the signals that it’s time to sit down or do something different.”
She references uterine fibroids as something Black women are more susceptible to in their lifetime. An NBC article covering uterine fibroids says “by age 35, about half of Black women have had them, and by age 50, 80 percent of Black women have them, compared to 70 percent of white women. Black women are also more likely to have higher fibroid growth than other racial groups.”
Nap Bishop Tricia Hersey also claims sleep deprivation as a “public health crisis.” And it’s a considerable claim. The CDC even cites a lack of rest and sleep as bad for your immune system, as loss of sleep can be linked to higher infection rates and a generation of “inflammatory cytokines” which can help cardiovascular and metabolic disorders develop.
Pinder agrees with Dillard’s earlier statements about a cultural shift away from needing to be in constant productivity. She says, “I’m just thankful that it seems that, as a culture, we are pulling away from that notion. And we are recognizing that in order to be healthy that we must schedule care and intentional rest.”
Rest is an antithesis of the white supremacist values that helped build this country.
As mentioned earlier in the words of her new book, “Rest is Resistance,” Tricia Hersey reminds us that Black people were the original capital of the United States. Slavery has been contemporarily referenced as “America’s first big business” as it helped establish wealth. In 1860, 4 million enslaved Black people were worth about $3.5 billion, which made them the “largest single financial asset in the entire United States economy.” White supremacy enforced the narrow view of Black people as labor productivity in the United States. Pinder also speaks to this.
“We, as we are now, were brought to America to not rest,” she says. “We were brought here to work. And it wasn’t long ago that that was the role of Black Americans. The goal was not to incorporate rest and produce as much as possible at the expense of your life.”
Doriana Diaz says rest is crucial because it helps honor her ancestors and reclaim the time taken away from them. She says, “[rest] helps us reimagine the ways that we can exist in this country and how we take care of ourselves.”
Making rest a ritualistic practice, Diaz says, helps her immensely in her day-to-day practices. She says things like making her bed, journaling, reading, and making tea in the morning are just a few ways that she does to practice rest. Doriana says that while some people equate rest to sleep or being in a horizontal position, rest is about how you “love yourself” and that there are different ways to practice it.
“Even laughing feels quite restful,” Diaz exclaims. “It feels like medicine. Like a thing that fuels me in a very sort of spiritual way. Ways we self-soothe can be ways of rest.” She says those practices are, in their essence, resistance and revolution.
Nomad says that rest is essential for his healing as a Black man. He agrees with the idea of Black people having to “go hard” to Black people’s early origins in this country as enslaved people. He says, “We, as Black men, are told not to rest. You got to work. But it’s cool to rest.” He says rest is “revolutionary” because it disrupts the idea that Black people are only machines.
He says that with suicide rates heightening in Black youth, particularly in Black boys, it’s essential that Black men take the time just to be good to themselves and practice mindfulness in a world that leaves little room for their feelings. Nomad says that while he hasn’t always had a rest practice, he’s learning to be more intentional about it.
Supine Horizons contributed to the historical significance and contemporary renaissance happening in Germantown.
Curator Nicole Pollard cited the historical Black importance of the neighborhood when asked about choosing the location for this exhibition. “Germantown has such an intense and immense history in terms of its connection to abolition,” she says. “And really being this kind of beacon, or safe space for Black folks throughout history. And so I think that really felt important when we were thinking about where to site this project.”
She also expressed that the owner of the KDD Theatre, Kristen Clark, talked about the re-emergence of an arts corridor happening in Germantown, which Clark declares as a new-age renaissance.
“A renaissance, by definition, is the revival of literature, arts, and culture,” Clark explains. “For the past three years, I have felt this shift in energy and culture around what our priorities are, what questions we’re asking, what we’re absorbing out in the world, and how that’s affecting us.”
She says it’s a shift more geared toward a space of love because community and human interaction are put at the forefront. The “Germantown Renaissance,” as she coins it, is learning our history to ensure we don’t repeat our past. “Slowing down” and “questioning systems” are two parts of Clark’s larger idea. She makes it clear that it’s not the idea that Germantown is “history’s backyard,” but that Germantown is still making history every day its inhabitants live in it.
She elaborates by saying, “What makes us great is that since literally the iteration of America, and before then our land, our soil has called and birthed so many great inspiring artists, movements, and thoughts. And it’s really important that we highlight that we have some of the best literary contributors to our culture residing in Germantown. We have people who are opening historic galleries in Germantown. We’re calling to action in this way that honors the history of today but also acknowledges that we are indeed making the history of tomorrow.”
Clark sensed alignment in the mission of Supine Horizons, making her feel confident to partner with Philadelphia Contemporary to house the exhibit and to be the house opener for the KDD Theatre. She says that Pollard worked hard to create a space to disarm people and detach their value from their contribution to society, and that’s what she wants people to feel in the space even after the end of the exhibition.
“The idea of rest as resistance contributes to that cultural shift,” the KDD Theatre owner justifies. “If I had it, I would rent a storefront and open a Supine Horizons year-round for people to come to relax, to rest, to reflect on themselves. Because I think that’s the kind of space we need. You know, we’re human beings, not human doings… and Supine Horizons encapsulates that perfectly.”
Some ways to practice rest, as mentioned by our Black neighbors.
- Journaling and writing
- Hiking and being in nature
- Immersing yourself in water (pools, lakes, showers, bubble baths, etc.)
- Enjoying tea
- Meditation, yoga, and other wellness activities
- Going for a walk or jog
- Riding your bicycle
- Listening to your music of choice or a podcast
- Gardening and urban farming
- Creating art
- Dedicating a space/altar in your home to rest
- Disconnecting from social media