How to understand Black art across the diaspora

Part II

What ways do you think can be employed to get more people into fine arts?

I would like [the art] experience to be like a shared cultural experience for every Black person. But that’s not how it’s going to work. We’re going to have to do a lot of work to understand what people are seeing and how they are seeing it.

People need to spend more time with the work but not everyone is interested, or has an art background and their visual literacy is not encouraged. One thing is to look at art and it’s another thing to comprehend it and find their own level of connection. Art is not a standardized test, it is so much more expansive. I want other people to be as passionate about it like I am.

I would say that museums are a great way but I know how charged that statement could be because they cost an insane amount of money. I think those moments when you get to see the work of a Black artist, it just changes your mind about wanting to be invested in reshaping the museum. If I didn’t get to go to the Met and see that Kerry James Marshall show in 2015 I don’t think I would be as fed as an artist if I didn’t get to see that. I want to say museums and that’s their job. They need to bear that burden because they have set themselves up to simultaneously create a space of discomfort for Black people but also remain the gatekeepers in accessibility to art.

I find these spaces have become so inaccessible even for people in the art world and who feel comfortable talking about art. It is difficult for Black artists right now. We see ourselves everywhere but not as equally still. With COVID-19, it is going to be hard [for the art world] without the glitz and glam to keep the exclusivity. With online viewing rooms, it’s more democratized and it’s a website.

What are the ways you see your peers creating and what other creative pursuits surround you?

My peers are killing it in so many different mediums. A lot of people developed a real talent for sculpture. I don’t think three-dimensionally, I feel like sculpture is something I have difficulty giving words to. I love paintings and that’s where I focus most of my looking, but I know so many amazing sculptors. Also, performance is really popular, I have actually done a couple of performances. Performance can be fun.

Is that something you want to do more of in the future?

Yeah, I would definitely do more performance art. I actually would love to collaborate with someone on it. There are so many ways that people are being creative and following what feels right for them and I am interested in seeing that variety reflected in the mainstream. But maybe they’re on the way. Someone who I really enjoy is Martine Sims. It’s very in my opinion, complicated but very smart. So, she has video but has 3D renderings and photo and makes these sculptures from it. And then you have Jacolby Satterwhite who, actually, that is his work. It’s very digital and incredible. He had that residency at Red Hook labs or a show there last year. It’s really phenomenal. Those are two artists dealing with the digital realm and their own experiences in a phenomenal way.

The Ambassadors, 2019

Since we’re talking about art that is seen to be on the margin, we earlier spoke about public art. Could you expand your thoughts on it?

I think that public art is something so important. Going back to arts education, it’s so important for a child to see themselves in their community and have an experience with that way of understanding. So many people I know have come to appreciate art by having a really positive childhood experience with it. I think public art has the ability to do that. But again, it is intertwined with all these systems. There’s this stigma with public art but I honestly think that that’s one of the opportunities for learning. Giving more space for public art will fuel visual literacy and allow for everyone to have continuous access to art. You don’t have to step into the space of a public institution to interact with art. With public art, you see it every day – it’s become part of your memory.  An example is the mural outside of the Women’s History Museum in San Francisco. I visited with my sister and that’s become a part of my memory. Another is the Simon Leigh work on the High Line [in New York]. One is more community-based and one is more art world but I think that both are necessary.  I think Lauren Halsey is another example of someone who really puts the community first and its evident in the work and how she brings community into these spaces.

What’s next for you?

I think drawing and painting is still what I love and I will continue to do that. I would love to graduate next year and take some time and continue to engage with as much art as I can and with as many people. Make from a really pure place. Subject matter is going to change for sure. I think I am taking it to a more internalized place to the point that it is more imagined and does not feel as picturesque. I’ve been doing some sketches. I can’t think with the current situation too far in advance and ahead. This is my platform and something that I am investing time and passion into.

How are you occupying your time during this break?

I have been reflecting a lot on who I am outside of the studio because I, like many people, I was working hard, my show had just opened, I had just produced a large body of work and I was going to enter a period of resting. But the work never stops so I am trying to be more aware of what I actually want to say, who I am, and working smaller and having that scale shift has been really interesting.

This break is making me reflect on so much like how to be comfortable, how to give back and how to feel fulfilled. I do want to collaborate more. I am also thinking about the artist as self and how as a public figure it has become very abstract. Whatever I do, I am interested in teaching eventually and collaborating. I want to expand the notion of what an artist can be, especially a Black figurative artist.

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Interview by Adefolakunmi Adenugba 

April 15, 2020