Bishop Perry and Moore Hall, Harlem, 2005 | Gareth McConnell

Bishop Perry Moore Hall, Harlem, 2005
Open edition
Inkjet print on Hahnemuhle Baryta
29.7 x 21 cm / 11.7 x 8.3
Signed & titled on reverse
ALL PROCCEEDS TO Reclaim The Block

Sat here in London I’m trying to think of ways to help our brothers and sisters in NY and all over the US. I am disgusted by the ongoing and historic murderous actions of the police, government and prison system. Lets not forget that even a short spell in jail could be a death sentence in this time of Covid. I don’t have much to offer other than my art work and my solidarity. LETS HELP GET PEOPLE OUT OF JAIL

Some words about the photograph

Bishop Perry Hall is the Parish Hall for St Mark’s The Evangelist in Harlem, New York, and is located on 138th Street between Malcolm X Blvd and Fifth Avenue. St Mark’s was one of the first churches in New York to welcome black people and in its first years, the church listed 10,000 communicants, more than one sixth of the population in Harlem during that time. In it’s early years, St. Mark served as a meeting place for Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association. The parish hall was originally erected in 1915, refurbished in the 1960s it was named Bishop Perry Hall, in 1996 the hall was rededicated honoring Bishop Emerson Moore, the first Monsignor and Vicar of Harlem and the first Black Bishop in New York city.

I photographed there in 2005 as part of a project ‘Community Meeting Rooms’ funded by the European Centre for Photography Fellowship.

‘Hope dances in sharp, painful places – on a knife’s edge, or on the point of a needle. To hope is a ritualistic act (think of crossing your fingers, or hanging a wish upon a star), and one that has its temples, although these are sometimes hard to identify. At first glance, the interiors depicted in Gareth McConnell’s series Community Meeting Rooms have a careworn shabbiness, but this is belied by the acts of caring that take place within their walls. These rooms are where people act out relationships that, unusually, are not mediated by capital, or by the swerve-eyed individualism of city living. Their emptiness (as pregnant with promise as an empty dance floor) speaks of multifarious uses – the traffic of hobbyists, activists, and those seeking physical and metaphysical rehabilitation, that passes through their doors. The ‘Community’ McConnell speaks of in the series’ title is defined by the aggregation of the activities that take place in these rooms – an acephalous society where benign anarchy is the norm, and the connection between one person and another is latitudinal, like one hand grasping another. What we see in McConnell’s series is the breakdown of the Enlightenment idea of the ‘body politic’ (with all the head-to-toe hierarchies it implies) into multiple groups that happily inhabit the same space. This, it seems to me, is intimately connected with the breakdown and subsequent rebuilding of the human body that many of the activities that take place in these rooms (from keep-fit classes to meetings of local environmentalist networks) are concerned with. One might imagine the scabbed and track-marked smack addicts from McConnell’s 1995 series Anti-Social Behaviour fetching up in one of these cheaply carpeted spaces, where, under the auspices of Narcotics Anonymous, they pledge to make tomorrow a better day. We might, then, think of these meeting rooms as utopian spaces, each a seedbed for a new world, and McConnell’s photographs of them not as documentary images, but rather as talismans of something a lot like hope.’

Tom Morton