Museum of Dead Words ‘lays to rest’ harmful words through hip-hop and art

The Museum of Dead Words selects 11 words that trigger arguments online and explores them through music and art. Photo Credit: Rae Maxwell

The words “racism,” “truth” and “deserve” have been ruled “dead” by hip-hop educator Brian “Dyalekt” Kushner.

The Museum of Dead Words selects 11 words that trigger arguments online and explores them through music and art.
The Museum of Dead Words selects 11 words that trigger arguments online and explores them through music and art. Photo Credit: Cinnamon Snail

Here lies "racism," "truth" and "deserve" — words that, when they lived, lost meaning and ultimately devolved conversation to argument.

These words and eight others will be laid to rest in a new exhibit called "The Museum of Dead Words" by hip-hop educator Brian "Dyalekt" Kushner. Opening Sept. 21, the show at Bushwick’s Art Apple NYC guides visitors on a tour of 11 words that Kushner deems "dead:" "hypocrite," "racism," "miscegenation," "normal," "sexism," "slut," "evil," "deserve," "obvious," "truth" and "clickbait."

Those "dead" words only trigger arguments because they don’t have the same meaning to everyone, Kushner said. 

"When you see these words, it means the conversation is over and now it’s just name-calling," he told amNewYork on Monday.

Over the course of a year, Kushner, who was inspired by George C. Wolfe’s play "The Colored Museum," scoured the comments sections under online news articles to find words that incited bickering. The 11 words are the result of his "unscientific research."

Each word in the gallery is written out in a popular font like Helvetica, Papyrus and Comic Sans to mimic its "obnoxious" appearance online, and has their etymology (or origin story), a visual representation of the word by an artist, and a hip-hop song written and performed by Kushner that visitors can listen to through headphones, Kushner said. 

Brian "Dyalekt" Kushner will give guided theatrical tours in the evenings at the Museum of Dead Words.
Brian "Dyalekt" Kushner will give guided theatrical tours in the evenings at the Museum of Dead Words. Photo Credit: Rae Maxwell

"These words are like ghosts hanging around and causing problems with folks," he said, explaining that the word "hypocrite" doesn’t take into consideration that people aren’t consistent, for example.

The word "miscegenation," or the marriage or cohabitation between two people from different races, is one dead word that is personal to Kushner, whose father is a white Jewish man and mother is black. 

When his parents met, anti-miscegenation laws were still in effect in several states before they were ruled unconstitutional in 1967. Now, the word is being used in white supremacist circles online, "which terrifies me," he said.

"The isolation that I felt reading all these conversations and not being able to affect any of it was hard for me," he said. "The typed word doesn’t inspire empathy."

Kushner and his director, Andrew J. Scoville, have crafted the show to be a learning experience done through art and performance, using Kushner’s talent in hip-hop as the anchor.

Kushner has worked with schools and organizations to address literacy and identity concerns through hip-hop for 15 years.

"How rhythm and culture affect conversation and how we treat each other is really important to me," he said. "Rhythm is the original language — you will understand what I’m saying by the rhythm and tone of my voice. I’m trying to help us speak better to each other and be more equitable about a lot of things."

    The Museum of Dead Words (1427 Dekalb Ave.) will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from Sept. 21 through Sept. 27 with the following programming:

    • Saturday, Sept. 21: Opening night from 7 to 11 p.m. featuring DJ MilkMoney on the turntables with live musical interpretation by Deathrow Tull.
    • Sunday, Sept. 22: Guided tour at 2 p.m., followed by a Sunday brunch with a panel on communication.
    • Monday, Sept. 23: Guided tour at 7 p.m. followed by a hip-hop education night.
    • Tuesday, Sept. 24: Guided tour at 7 p.m. followed by a digital literacy workshop.
    • Wednesday, Sept. 25: Guided tour at 7 p.m. followed by a racial wealth divide panel.
    • Thursday, Sept. 26: Artist financial plan workshop on the Credit Hustle at 7 p.m. followed by a guided tour at 9 p.m.
    • Friday, Sept. 27: Closing night from 7 to 11 p.m., the museum lays the dead words "to rest" in a funeral procession with Kristen Crouch doing live art freestyling following the museum tour. There will also be a special set by members of MINDSpray.

    Tickets are $10-$15 on eventbrite.com.

    Shaye Weaver