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Nashville Artists Reflect On The Challenges Of 2020 In New Frist Exhibit

Courtesy of the Frist / WPLN

It was a hard year for the city of Nashville — from the tornado and the pandemic, to a summer of protests against police brutality and the downtown bombing. More than 150 local artists are looking back for the Frist’s new virtual exhibition, N2020: Community Reflections.


“It’s a reflection of the year 2020 through different mediums, such as dance, poetry, visual arts, murals and photography,” says guest curator Jay Jenkins, also known as Woke3.

While most of the featured work was created over the course of the last year, Woke3 asked spoken word artist Karimah Miller to write a poem for a series of photographs for the Frist exhibit.

Miller says the nearly" style="box-sizing: inherit; background-color: inherit; transition: all 0.1s ease-in-out 0s; color: rgb(49, 157, 255); font-weight: inherit;">15-minute poem gave her the opportunity to reclaim the narrative of what the last year was like for Black Nashvillians.

“Now awake the aftermath, more real, 309 people injured and 25 killed. Mom and pop shops destroyed, what they’ve worked a lifetime for,” Miller says over top of a video slideshow of the tornado’s destruction. “Businesses no longer standing, some demolished. And North Nashville, barely being acknowledged. The news heavy out East and other parts of town, but over here, barely covered ground. Open wounds, leaving the community exposed. Disdain and bitterness continue to grow.”

She describes the community’s fear that developers would see the damage in historically Black North Nashville as an opportunity to further gentrify the area and displace residents. She goes on to recount George Floyd’s death, and the protests afterward.


Credit DaShawn Lewis / Courtesy of the Frist
Courtesy of the Frist
An image from the protests this summer in Nashville is part of the video, Within 2020.

“You think about 2020 being ‘perfect vision,’ ” Miller says. “It wasn’t what we thought it was going to be. The year started off nice and then the tornado, and then COVID. Dang, we went through all of that in one year, and we’re still here? We’re still pushing, we’re still moving?”

Another video by spoken word artist Twigz highlights the experience of essential workers going to work during the pandemic. Nurses and grocery store clerks stand among the shell of a dilapidated building. Twigz wears a shirt that reads ‘Essential’ on the front, and ‘Sacrificial’ on the back.

“She’s always just been a hot spitter,” Woke3 says. “Her lyrics, her flow, her style have always been dope.”

“You see my mama had odd jobs. Oddly they didn’t care about her odds,” Twigz says, with chains on her wrists from behind a barred door. “She was on a deathbed several times and couldn’t get a get-well card. They said ‘Retail don’t care about your tail. Better sell our customers that fairytale. Oh, you’re sick? We wish you well. Tell your kids we hope they fail so they can come and make your sell.’ Modern day jail, no bail.”

Woke3 says the challenges 2020 presented just added on to what many Nashvillians were already struggling with: gentrification, inequities, racism, and more.

“I really want folks to look within themselves. That was always my goal,” he says. “I wanted to look deeper within myself, and a lot of folks I know that have experienced this year, looking within themselves, they have a new understanding of themselves. That’s the message. Look within.”

Paige Pfleger is a reporter for WOSU, Central Ohio's NPR station. Before joining the staff of WOSU, Paige worked in the newsrooms of NPR, Vox, Michigan Radio, WHYY and The Tennessean. She spent three years in Philadelphia covering health, science, and gender, and her work has appeared nationally in The Washington Post, Marketplace, Atlas Obscura and more.
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