Sam Vernon

Impasse of Desires

Curated by Elena Gross
March 31, 2022
September 18, 2022
1st Floor - Lloyd H. Dean Gallery


Sam Vernon, Impasse of Desires , 2020; Courtesy of the artist.

Museum of the African Diaspora is pleased to present Sam Vernon: Impasse of Desires, a site-specific installation and solo exhibition of the artist’s work. Using Matt Richardson’s 2013 publication The Queer Limit of Black Memory as a critical entry point, Vernon drapes the first-floor gallery and lobby of the museum with sheets of colored fabric and creates a constellation of made and found images.

This site-specific installation by visual artist Sam Vernon is a direct response to and activation of MoAD's first floor gallery space and hallway. Long sheets of colored textiles act as connective tissue, bringing together the museum's internal and external publics, by creating a visual bridge between the museum's lobby and the building's facade. In Richardson's introduction, he cites the photomosaic of Chester Higgins Jr's Young Girl from Ghana that adorns two and a half floors of the museum's exterior street front as a troubling site of both celebration and erasure: while the mosaic offers a kaleidoscope of Black faces, familial structures, and community, it noticeably underrepresents non-normative gender and sexual expression.

Richardson notes, "Standing in MoAD, I seemed to be at an impasse of desires..."

While “impasse" may imply a roadblock or insurmountable barrier, Vernon utilizes the first-floor space to tease out the gaps and imagine the possibilities for queer subjecthood within them. In the hallway, she loosely constructs a constellation of images into a broken grid with holes and inconsistencies, challenging the form's authoritarian nature, creating what the artist calls "visual friction." Recognizing loss and messiness as inherent to the diasporic condition, Vernon like Richardson, calls for queering Black time and space.

Though published in 2013, Vernon uses this installation to consider the questions Richardson raises in The Queer Limit of Black Memory—most urgently, where is the space for queerness to exist within a collective imagining of blackness?—and underscores their critical relevance seven years later.


Sam Vernon earned her MFA in Painting/Printmaking from Yale University in 2015 and her BFA from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 2009. Her installations combine xeroxed drawings, photographs, and sculptural components in an exploration of personal narrative and identity. She uses installation and performance to honor the past while revising historical memory. Most recently, Vernon has exhibited with King School Museum of Contemporary Art, Downtown Gallery, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Ashara Ekundayo Gallery, Gallery 44 Center for Contemporary Photography, Toronto, We Buy Gold, Interstitial Gallery, Coney Art Walls curated by Jeffery Deitch, Brooklyn Museum, Queens Museum, Fowler Museum at UCLA and Seattle Art Museum. Vernon lives in San Francisco, CA and teaches in Printmedia as an Assistant Professor at California College of the Arts (CCA).

Made possible by

MoAD Website Visitor Survey

MoAD wants to hear from you!
Your opinion is important to us. Please take this 3-minute survey. Your response will help MoAD offer the best possible visitor experience. Thank you for your feedback!
Open Survey