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America – the country of unlimited possibilities. As ever, a vehicle continues to represent freedom, and the best way to get to know the country. This cherished myth, fostered in literature and art, is now being questioned at every level in a new book by the American photographer Amani Willett. In A Parallel Road we learn that the freedom to move around and get to know the country’s diversity, its landscapes and its cultures, has been and still remains denied to millions of Americans. Saying that the country is free, democratic and without barriers, is an impertinent claim where its black citizens are concerned. The starting point for Willett’s five-year project was his own experiences, as well as those of people around him. For many black people, the road does not represent freedom and a chance for independence; it is rather a fearful, unpredictable and dangerous place, with the threat of systematic racism, violence and death. “Over the past decade, I have spoken at length with family and friends about how scary the road can feel; and about how they have often thought twice, before simply getting into their cars and driving,” Willett explains. “For me, and for many other black Americans, ‘the road’ immediately conjures images of a politically contested space, where generations have fought for equal rights, most significantly during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. The road also evokes memories of a more horrific underbelly of American society – as a site of racial discrimination and brutality.”

The complex layout of this photo book is very special: each copy is hand-stitched, has an untrimmed leading edge and comes in a printed protective cover. The design of the small-format book was inspired by  Victor Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book, which was published every year from 1936 to 1966. It was a practical and necessary travel guide, directed at Afro-American drivers. It listed addresses that were considered safe. At the time, due to the systemic racist discrimination, petrol stations, garages and hotels often denied their services to black Americans. Even though the travel guide became formally redundant after discrimination was legally banned in 1964, many of the restrictions and hazards still remain. In this photo book, original pages from the Green Book are overlaid with archival material, ranging from historical photographs and pictures taken by Willett, to ad reproductions and internet screenshots. The reality of systemic racism that still exists today becomes clear.

This is a noteworthy book. It is precisely thanks to the fine craftsmanship that Willett succeeds in creating an insightful portrayal of existing systemic racism, and encourages a dialogue around complex issues of identity, self-perception and freedom.
(Ulrich Rüter)

Amani Willet: A Parallel Road
112 pages, 85 photographs, archival images and screenshots, 12.5 x 17 cm. English, Overlapse
Design: Tiffany Jones

All images on this page: © Amani Willett, courtesy of Overlapse
Blood on Car, 2018
Carlenz, 2018
Gail, 2019
Site of Klan Killing, 2013
Sundown Town, 2020
Untitled, 2020
© Alison Kalis

Amani Willet

Willet was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and currently lives in Brooklyn and Boston. He has a BA from Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT; and an MFA in Photography, Video and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts, New York, NY. In his work, Willett explores family, history, memory and social environments. A Parallel Road is his third monograph, following The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer (Overlapse, 2017) and Disquiet (Damiani, 2013). He has been published in Harper's, Newsweek, The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine, among others.

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