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Kamasi Washington makes Whitney Biennial debut with ‘Harmony of Difference’

Add exhibiting artist to the list of accomplishments enjoyed by Kamasi Washington. The acclaimed saxophonist, whose sprawling three-disc The Epic landed on many year-end best-of list in 2015, premiered his multimedia work “Harmony of Difference” at the Whitney Biennial, the exhibition held every two years at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The piece contains a six-part, 32-minute composition played out on three video screens placed on separate walls of a dark room, each video slowly panning across a painting by Amani Washington, Kamasi’s sister. A second video is displayed on the unadorned fourth wall at the start of the sixth movement, showing a series of diversity people and cultures, the images changing in time to the music.

Washington collaborated on “Harmony” with the West Coast Get Down, a Los Angeles-based collective founded by upright bassist Miles Mosley, as well as director A.G. Rojas, known for his music video work. Together, Washington and Rojas merged the abstract music and visuals to create six different movements—“Desire,” “Humility,” “Knowledge,” “Perspective,” “Integrity” and “Truth”—that correspond to the saxophonist’s vision. However, a music and video piece was not his first idea for the Biennial; according to Washington, he initially considered showcasing his interests in textiles or fashion.

“But as the year progressed, it felt like there was this constant looming shadow: problems among all the different people coexisting in this country,” Washington told Rolling Stone. “I never looked at it that way; my experience living in Los Angeles was that I appreciated the fact that there were so many different cultures, so many different people here, and us all being thrust together was a cool thing. How do I use my music to speak to that?”

Washington’s participation in this year’s exhibition came as a result of gig he played at Winter Jazzfest NYC in 2016, a performance attended by Christopher Y. Lew, the co-curator of the 2017 Biennial. The exhibition, which began March 17, runs through June 11. Ticket information can be found at the Whitney’s website.