The artist known as Dyalekt (pronounced dialect) greets us looking like a young Allen Ginsberg in his Yippie Uncle Sam phase, holding up a bucket labeled “dead words,” asking us for words that we don’t think work anymore. He will be our rapping guide to The Museum of Dead Words, which is not really a museum and not really about dead words. It is a show about 11 red-hot words that are used in combat rather than conversation.
“I couldn’t talk to my friends about racism, not because we had differing opinions, but because we didn’t share the definition of the word,” Dyalekt explains, and so all attempted dialogue devolved into unproductive semantic arguments. (His explanation is written on an introductory wall panel). “Racist/m” is one of the 11 words that Dyalekt believes no longer have clear meanings, and are used as weapons, especially online. They are on display at the Art Apple gallery in Bushwick, in this combination exhibition, rap concert, etymology lesson and political commentary. Each word is mounted on a wall in the gallery; an original painting or sculpture by a collaborating artist accompanies most of the words. And Dyalekt brings the audience one by one through each exhibit, offering a few words of commentary, before he launches into a rap song he has composed inspired by the word.
“Hypocrite” is one of the exhibits, he explains, because the accusation of hypocrisy assumes that anybody can be consistent, but, he says, nobody is. And then, accompanied by piped-in music, he sings his rap entitled “broken clock theory” —
And I been a hypocrite but I don’t remember it
And if you never been wrong before
In any way shape or form you’re free to ignore
But for the rest of us there’s a lot to explore
Miscegenation is the word he hates the most in the English language, he tells us, and he takes it personally (Born Brian Kushner, he is the son of a white father and a black mother.) It is also the only one of the 11 words in the show that one could argue is actually dead (as in, no longer in general use) — although, as Dyalekt points out with a shudder, its use is on the rise among white supremacists.
“The Museum of Dead Words” is replete with fascinating etymology that shades into political commentary. Take the word “clickbait,” the newest “dead” word. As he explains, it originally meant an online headline that would get you to click to the article. Then it became a headline that didn’t match the article that you clicked to. “Now it’s: I won’t read. I don’t agree. You’re a liar.”
Feminists have tried to reclaim the word “slut,” Dyalekt tells us, but it has resisted this reclamation, as he noticed during a demonstration at Union Square when the (women) protesters shouted out the word, and the impromptu (male) audience snickered.
At the end of the hour-long tour, Dyalekt had one of the audience members pick a word out of the bucket of words to which we had all contributed. The word was “love.” It’s dead, he said; is there any way we can bring it back to life, by attaching another word to it?
“One-love” somebody suggested.
“The Museum of Dead Words” is running only through September 27
Each show comes with a panel or event either before or after the show. The remaining ones are
Tonight, 9/24: a digital literacy workshop
Wednesday, 9/25: a racial wealth divide panel
Thursday, 9/26: Artist Financial Plan workshop on the Credit Hustle at 7pm (sign up here), followed by MODW tour at 9pm
Friday, 9/27: Closing night from 7-11pm – The Museum Lays the Dead Words to Rest
The Museum of Dead Words funeral procession where we lay the words to rest
Featuring Kristen Crouch doing live art freestyling following the museum tour
A Special Set by members of the MINDSpray crew
And if you can’t make it out to Bushwick in time
check out “The Museum of Dead Words” on Soundcloud
But these dead words really come alive when the show is live in person.
The 11 words:
Directed by Andrew J Scoville | Curated by Kristen Crouch
Written and performed by Dyalekt
Participating visual artists and musicians: Sid Suna, brokeMC, Abby Walsh, Kristen Crouch, Warner King, Zaquan Lives, Magnit Hands, Kai Barreda, Mars Guitars, Kamakaze Picnic, Willie Green, Maggie Muldoon, Joe Drymala
Running time: One hour
Tickets: 10 to $15