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Martine Syms’ Lessons I­-LXXXVI, 2014–, is an extended, incomplete poem about the black radical tradition. Each piece, or commercial, is thirty seconds in duration and articulates a lesson from the tradition. Structured as cantos—subdivisions of an epic or narrative poem—the first lessons in the series were inspired by poet Kevin Young’s book, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness. The Grey Album is comprised of literary and cultural criticism and lyrical choruses that center black culture as American culture. Just as Young’s book moves throughout art, music, and popular culture, Syms’ Lessons consist of a plethora of found and original footage, including homemade movies, clips from 1990s talk shows, and YouTube videos. Accompanying the installation of Lessons is a wall painting that reads, “Lightly, Slightly, Politely.” The phrase is a reference from the author Zora Neale Hurston’s slang glossary, which means “something done perfectly.” However, Syms’ use of the idiom is twofold: one that points to black literary traditions and the other that acknowledges the societal pressures impressed on black people, particularly women, in America.

Lesson 1

Lesson V

Lesson XXX

Lesson LXXIV

Lesson LXII