A Thousand Secrets

curated by Mae A. Miller

Trevor Paglen, Under the Beach (Tumon Bay, Guam), 2015
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This exhibition proposes a radical aesthetics of listening to ocean worlds. Oceanic undercurrents quietly structure contemporary social reality. The origin of the 'quarantine' dates to the bubonic plague-era practice of anchoring ships in isolation, while undersea cables support all modes of online connectivity from the Netflix Party to the Zoom classroom. Journalists have recounted the deafening quiet of 'just the sounds of waves breaking' (Dilipkumar, 2020) across the otherwise calamitous shipbreaking yards of the Indian Ocean and the appeals of stranded fishermen who, in May 2020, sailed from Antigua to the Azores to escape the impending catastrophe of hurricanes. What does it mean to learn from historical resonances and geographic unmooring outside of the promise of return to charted courses'

A Thousand Secrets is an immersive, multi-sensory exhibition that engages the sonic multiplicity and opacity of water as a provocation for alternative modes of collective listening to a world in crisis. Dionne Brand (2002) describes the sound of the ocean as a 'thousand secrets, all whispered at the same time.' Inspired by Brand, A Thousand Secrets holds multiple registers of world-making in tense relation and grapples with that which is ineffable--or perhaps, with the stories of the sea that are, 'inaudible to ordinary ears but still detectable with the right listening device, like the mother's ear' (Habila 2019). Working against the spectacle of human suffering, each artwork in A Thousand Secrets unsettles conventional listening devices to uncover entangled histories of extraction and whispered traces of the otherwise through the transformative properties of the ocean.

The exhibit will be accompanied by a series of multimedia storytelling workshops for youth to engage with oceanic pasts, presents, and futures.

Trevor Paglen's photographic series, NSA-Tapped Undersea Cables, trawls the ocean floor and coastlines for visual traces of the security state. The series maps the seemingly amorphous world of the internet and complicates prevailing understandings of where and how states listen.

Jana Winderen's sound installation, Through the Bones, adopts the vernacular practices of Thai fishermen who listen to underwater life by placing their ears against the oar. These modes of relational living and listening challenge extractive logics and scientific 'expertise.'

Andrea Chung's The Westerlies is an immersive dome installation that inverts the nautical coordinates of the 'trade winds' and creates a speculative soundscape wherein children warn the ancestors of colonial and plantation futures.

Hajra Waheed's sprawling visual novel, Sea Change, explores the contradictory production of the sea as a space of disappearance and salvation told through tenuous and entangled fragments of selves left behind--returned love letters, newspaper clippings, postcards.

Edgar Arceneaux's series, Slave Ship Zong, stretches the speculative world of Drexciya--the mythical underwater civilization populated by the unborn children of drowned slaves--from its saltwater origins in the Atlantic to the watery depths of post-industrial Lake Michigan, blurring the borders of land, sea, and linear temporality.

Bouchra Khalili's short film, The Seaman, juxtaposes the ghostly and seemingly desolate choreography of Hamburg's port terminals with the oral histories Filipino seafarers to explore questions of exile, alienation, and belonging in the context of modern container shipping.

*The text above was submitted to apexart's 2021-22 NYC Open Call, and rated by over 400 jurors. Any specific artists mentioned are unconfirmed and subject to change.


Mae A. Miller is a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in the Geography Department at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently developing her first book manuscript, Oceanic Groundings: Radical Internationalism and Black Feminist Journeying Through Insurgent Seas which explores the spatial histories of storytelling, political education, and cultural production in global port cities. Miller received her Ph.D. in Geography at the CUNY Graduate Center and has previously taught at the Museum of City of New York and Vassar College. A Thousand Secrets is her first solo-curated exhibition.

apexart’s program supporters past and present include the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Spencer Brownstone, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, The Puffin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and administered by LMCC, funds from NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.