In Brooklyn, a Unique Archive Cares for Social Justice

Filled with all sorts of ephemera, Interference Archive encourages social engagement through the cultural production of social movements.

In Brooklyn, a unique archive cares for social justice

Devoted to past social movements, and its link to present ones, this makes for a special archive visit. Interference Archive is a beloved space in Brooklyn, New York, that has been doing incredibly important work since it opened its doors in December 2011. 

Archives in cities are essential; they tell stories of our collective memory, and foremost they provide tangible evidence. Interference Archive utilizes its resources to provide people with direct ways to take part in social justice causes.

The walls of the archive brim with powerful imagery alluding to histories, and contemporary problems, with a goal in mind to actively improve the future. People of all ages visit the space, and every nook and cranny is worthy of introspection. 

Much of the trove of archival materials focuses on human rights issues and the people fighting oppression all over the world. The cultural production is global in scope, and local in its purpose. Its mission is not only to preserve the ephemera it holds, but to also provide access to it in an inclusive environment for people to uncover at their own pace through its open stacks model. 

People are invited to sit and peruse through the archives at their leisure; working groups meet to delve deeper into their work; and passersby pop in to visit the exhibitions and attend the various events that they host. Stunning political posters cover every inch of the surfaces in both gender-neutral restrooms. Their presence honors and upholds the energy of the work of activists, and the causes they are committed to, churning through the bones of the building and the fibers of its soul.

Inside Interference Archive in Brooklyn / Photo credit Yasmeen Abdallah

The art and music born out of cultural production are central components of Interference Archive’s mission. The primary focus is on reproducible material culture as multiples for distribution (flyers, posters, zines, newspapers, books, etc). They were partly amassed by two of the founders, Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee through their involvement in social movements, DIY and punk, and political art projects over the past 25 years. 

Together with Molly Fair and Kevin Caplicki, Greenwald and MacPhee envisioned turning their personal collections into a public archive, with open-access to materials for the community.

The emphasis is on the lineages of imagery of social movements, harkening back to analogue roots that can be built upon in the digital era. It is a generous and exciting way to uncover history through the handling of tangible ephemera detailing fragments of it through sensorial experience.  

 The preservation of material culture illustrates the struggles, the injustices, revolutions, and complexities through the words of one’s own experiences, and their allies. Art in all forms illustrate stories that the mainstream media often woefully fails to, or refuses to include. 

Piles of boxes for the archives / Photo credit Yasmeen Abdallah

Painstakingly it strives to foster awareness, critical thinking, and to stimulate dialogue; while also promoting a community of inclusion and agency through the archival and educational modes of access to publications, art, and records that capture the sentiments, collectivizing and mobility of activist social movements. The intention is to let the roots of histories grow into new generations of action and activism through the contemporary and future seeding of ideas and energies.

What makes Interference Archive so special is that it is a volunteer-run collective that functions as a modified consensus through a non-hierarchical model, while creating accessible educational models and providing space for experiential learning through tactility (the opportunity to handle pieces of histories that speak through visual communication). Volunteers move around cataloging and compiling in a quiet bustle, everyone engaged and working toward a collective goal of preservation and progress. The archive brings together people of various skill sets to share knowledge through their backgrounds in library sciences, research, art practices, academics, activism, mutual aid work, and a deep commitment to community-building.

While the physical experience of being in the space permeates one’s being through a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere, the online experience is equally accessible, informative, organized, and easy to navigate. It offers another route of contemplative discovery and self-directed learning. The website masterfully threads activism, inclusivity and academic resources with an openness to learn and be present. 

Inside Interference Archive in Brooklyn / Photo credit Yasmeen Abdallah

Through events like zine-making workshops, lively panel discussions, and events that include programming crafted to complement the changing exhibitions in the space, people can experience community gatherings that celebrate radical love and mutual respect for both their neighbors and people across the globe. Volunteer Brooke Darrah fondly recalls propaganda parties and sing-alongs as favorite memories while working at the archive; while Jen Hoyer spoke about the dedication of fellow volunteers to trudge through a bad snowstorm to install an exhibition, revealing the dedication people have for the space.

In witnessing the meticulous cataloging of donated archival material, people begin to recognize and appreciate the significance of everyday ephemera as something of value and of historical significance. Flyers from past events help to visually narrate and illustrate a timeline of moments that a lot of educational models leave out. Interference Archive uses its space and its platform to fill in these critical gaps. 

The true litmus test of any meaningful actionable endeavor comes down to one constant and unwavering principle: care. Care for people affected by serious issues; care for the social movements that mobilize to create solutions to, and bring awareness and support for those issues. The care for these objects continues to live on as active, live material culture that motivates activists, researchers and scholars to continue to do the work to keep pushing for a more equitable and just society for all.

Inside Interference Archive in Brooklyn / Photo credit Yasmeen Abdallah

Interference Archive also has generously lent its expertise to other archives and initiatives when approached, demonstrating another extension of its care for others and its dedication to liberation and solidarity. Some of its funding comes through grants, as well as individuals who don’t make a lot of money but care about the mission of, and issues that the archive are dedicated to. It also uses a subscriber-based model that was born out of a healthcare fund to help with the medical bills of one of the founders, Dara Greenwald. She was an artist whose memory lives on through the spirit of the archive. 

Part of  the charm of Interference Archive is the way it feels simultaneously homey and invigorating, with informative, rotating exhibitions of historical and contemporary movements filling the main area. A powerful past exhibition, Our Streets! Our City! Self-determination and Public Space in NYC exhibition was on view from May 21 – Sept. 5, 2022, and was curated by: Nora Almeida, Josh van Biema, Rachel Jones, Marco Lanier, Maya Chang Matunis, Lana Pochiro, Hallel Yadin, Translation: Gaby López Dena, Original Illustrations: Sophie Holin, Audio Collages: Rachel Garber Cole. 

This comprehensive exhibition highlighted community work by activist groups in New York including Black Panthers, Young Lords, Poor People’s Campaign, Black Liberation Army, Green Guerillas, Bread and Puppet Theater, Public Space Party, Earth Justice, FUREE (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, BED (Brooklyn Eviction Defense), Crown Heights Tenants Union, Transportation Alternatives, Time’s Up, Right of Way, Reclaim the Streets, and Make Brooklyn Safer. The show signified the tireless fight for equity and justice by these organizers, and their commitments to food justice; environmental justice; housing justice and street justice. 

Exhibition Defend/Defund – Photo credit Yasmeen Abdallah

Defend/Defund was Interference Archive’s most recent exhibition, which opened on October 8, 2022, and was on view through January 29, 2023. The show’s focus was on the tireless work of Black organizers, and families who have lost loved ones to police violence. Defend/Defund presented a visual narrative of resistance work in response to policing and police brutality over the last two hundred years, linking the earlier approaches to contemporary ones, and highlighting the longevity of both the continuing issue itself, as well as the current abolitionist work that is being done today. 

The upcoming exhibition, (take-away archives), is curated by Andrea Ancira and Gaby López. It highlights printed matter around feminist struggles within societal infrastructure, as a reexamination of public space through both textual and graphic forms; with materials sourced from Aeromoto Public Library in Mexico City, in addition to the archives at Interference. The exhibition opens on February 19, and will be on view through May 21, 2023. 

Interference Archive unequivocally demonstrates the magic of what can be possible when the act of caring occurs through the sharing of material culture, ephemera, art, literature, memories, histories, stories, social movements, acts of resistance, loss, victory, collectivism, and bring forth change in the coming generations.

It nourishes the public through its dedication to equity and social justice through its accessibility of information, solidarity initiatives, and sense of safety and inclusion in its brick-and-mortar storefront.

Interference Archive is open on Monday evenings from 6-9 pm, Friday from 1-6pm and Sundays 12-5pm, and is closed Tuesday-Thursday.
With deep thanks and gratitude to Jen Hoyer and Brooke Darrah of Interference Archive for their time, expertise, and dedication for speaking about the work that they and Interference Archive do.


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