© 2020 Sue Jeong Ka
Book Repair Lab: The Banned Books, 2019–Ongoing
Site-specific installation, second-hand books, artist’s book
Courtesy the artist
This work entwines several threads of research about the relationships between public libraries, private universities and prisons in the USA. Ka began researching the New York Public Library (NYPL) Jefferson Market branch when she was commissioned to make a work responding to The New School’s archive as part of the exhibition In the Historical Present, which marked the institution’s centenary. Her research revealed that although they are different institutions, The New School and the Jefferson Market Library share a historical connection; in the 1970s The New School sought to lease the lot at 10 Greenwich Avenue, the site of New York’s Women’s House of Detention, with a plan to raze the prison and build its Center for New York City Affairs in its place. The ground floor of this building was to house an extension of the Jefferson Market Library, which occupied the old courthouse formerly attached to the prison. The plan, which never came to pass, would have been mutually beneficial. However, the removal of the prison also erased the shared history of incarceration and queerness in The Village, a history that is recorded in a bound edition created for this exhibition.
During this research, the artist came across a discussion between Angela Davis—who was imprisoned at The Women’s House of Detention when arrested in New York—and author Toni Morrison. Davis commented that while incarcerated she had been unable to access books by the author. There is an extensive list of books that are banned in prisons across the USA (regulated state-by-state). For this installation, the Jefferson Market Library has gathered some of those books, installed on the library shelf. These are accompanied by a bound copy of the archival material that the artist digitized during her research.
Special thanks to Frank Collerius, Manager at the Jefferson Market Libray and Macushla Robinson, Curator of The New School's Centennial Exhibition, In the Historical Present.