Curated by Darren Lee Miller
Artists’ Lectures: Tuesday, January 20, 7:00 – 8:00PM, Doane Hall A104
Opening Reception with Alisha Wormsley: Tuesday, January 20, 8:00 – 9:00PM, Art Galleries
Brendan Fernandes, Artist-in-Residence, February 16 – 20
Cookies with Brendan Fernandes: Friday, February 20, Noon – 1:00PM
Closing Reception and Panel Discussion with Sandra Brewster, Vanessa German, Kenyatta Hinkle, and Alisha Wormsley: Tuesday, March 3, 7:00 – 9:00PM, Art Galleries
Exhibition Dates: Tuesday, January 20 – Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Performing Blackness :: Performing Whiteness, Full Interviews
The full texts are located below the introductory essay, or get the edited interviews in PDF format: PerformingBlacknessPerformingWhitenessV2
Darren Lee Miller, Curator
What does it mean when we hear that a person of color “acts white,” or that a person who appears to be Caucasian “talks like she’s black?” People who are not white are often described as ethnic or racial, while those who are Caucasian are rarely described by their race. And what about people whose racial lineage is neither black nor white? Racial binaries in the United States have been constructed on the premise that one is either white or other; and yet, if the 2010 census is any indication, we are already defining ourselves in multiple categories. And this doesn’t even begin to address how people in other countries think about race, ethnicity, and identity.
The artworks in this exhibition interrogate oversimplifying binaries, destabilize the often unexamined position of whiteness, and complicate other cultural constructions around race. Invited artists are Sandra Brewster, Steve Cole, Andrea Chung, Brendan Fernandes, Vanessa German, Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle, Ayanah Moor, James Seward and Alisha Wormsley. The artists deploy visual texts in the service of asking uncomfortable questions, reflecting upon identity, and asking the viewer to consider his/her own role in building, enabling, or perpetuating stereotypes. And while categories may be limiting, they may sometimes offer safe and inclusive spaces for those within particular groups.
The idea for this exhibition came from the National Public Radio series Code Switch, launched in April 2013 to explore “frontiers of race, culture and ethnicity.” Some of the earliest stories focused on code switching, the practice of literally changing the grammar, syntax, and style of delivery of one’s speech in order to more appropriately match the expectations of a situation or peer group. For example, one may talk and act a certain way with her friends at a nightclub, but will probably speak and behave differently during a job interview. The practice raises questions about authenticity, (self)acceptance, assimilation, and cultural legacies. In other words, code switching points to the performative, fluid nature of identity construction. This exhibition explores the ways in which afro-diasporic, Native-American, Asian/pacific, and Latino identities contend to construct themselves in relation to a white identity so normative and privileged that it largely remains unnamed.
All of this is a very academic way to say that while race in America is everyone’s issue, the bulk of the problem — and the majority of the responsibility for repairing the damage — lies with the dominant (white) culture. In the December 1, 2014 issue of New York Magazine, comedian Chris Rock talked with Frank Rich about white vs. black racial positionality and our cultural reluctance to talk openly about it. “I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative. Not in their political views, but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of ‘We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.’ Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say ‘the black kid over there.’ No, it’s ‘the guy with the red shoes.’1” And yet, for all the limitations of discourse on college campuses, with their trigger warnings and political correctness, my colleagues and I still felt that this exhibition would contribute to ongoing conversations at Allegheny College — and communities around the country — about racism, heterosexism, and institutionalized privilege; a triumvirate commonly referred to by Human Resources professionals and Administrators as “climate.”
This exhibition is timed to begin the day after our campus celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the show ends just a few days after the conclusion of Black History Month; but, this timing was an accidental result of a gallery calendar that allows me a significantly longer period of time at the start of every spring semester not only for the run of exhibitions (five weeks, instead of the three weeks I usually get for fall semester shows), but also for planning, curating, and conceptualizing. On the one hand, I am aware that this exhibition plays into the College’s desire to be seen as in inclusive institution that is making hiring and admissions choices in order to raise its “diversity profile,” and on the other hand I know that such efforts are often seen as tokenizing gestures by the very people to which they are designed to pay tribute. To put it bluntly, if February is the month when we honor the contributions of Black Americans, then what are we doing the other eleven months? We need to face the paucity of our own good intentions to see that bringing in an African American intellectual to give a speech on the third Monday of January does not even begin to address the twin scourges of racial profiling and ghettoization that work to create a system of structural violence against people of color. One hundred fifty years after emancipation, our nation still has not effectively addressed the undemocratic effects of an economic system that was (and increasingly is, once again) predicated upon servitude, unequal access, and segregation.
In the past few months we’ve seen militarized police forces across the country wage mechanized, warlike assaults against mostly peaceful protesters in cities across the nation. Store windows have been smashed and cars overturned by protesters in Oakland, California, two New York City police officers have been assassinated by a man seeking revenge for the deaths Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and Ferguson, Missouri burns in violent riots. After jurors did not indict the Ferguson PD officer who killed unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, or the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner, we see mainstream TV news pundits proclaiming that this “isn’t about race,” and, “only racists talk about race.” I’m going to assume some of these people operate from a place of fear. I’m going to guess they are afraid to talk about race because they may be called racists. Or worse, they worry they may inadvertently say racist things. But what is bigotry if not a manifestation of fear of “the other?” The real problem is that so many people are unwilling to see their own racism for what it is because they have a mistaken belief that only “bad” people say and do prejudiced things. What is clear — regardless of how forensic evidence in the Ferguson case was handled — is that the riots in Ferguson and the protests around the nation are not just about the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown (and Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, and Akai Gurley, and Ezell Ford, and Amadou Diallo, and…), just as the protests and revolutions through the Middle East following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi weren’t just about dissatisfaction with working conditions of street vendors in Tunisia. The problems are integral parts of our cultural and economic systems.
According to the Center for American Progress, people of color account for over two thirds of the U.S. prison population, but make up less than 30% of the overall population. One out of every three black men will go to prison in his lifetime. 2 A report by the Department of Justice found that “blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. 3” As Chris Rock says in his New York Magazine interview, “I would love to be a 60 Minutes correspondent. I’d be in Ferguson right now. I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before. So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. 4”
So then, what is Whiteness? Does a person have to be descended from Caucasian Europeans to enjoy the privileges of Whiteness? For many of us, being White means that we are more likely to have gone to public schools with fully-funded budgets. It means we are more likely not only to have the means to go to college, but to have the support needed to come out the other end with a four-year degree. It means we are less likely to be stopped by the police, and when we are pulled-over we are more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt. It means that even when we are charged with crimes, we are less likely to be found guilty. And when we are found guilty, we are less likely to receive maximum penalties. It means that when our white children are playing outside our houses with toy guns, it is very unlikely they will be shot by the police. When a black artist friend and I visit museums and galleries, I am likely to receive the first offer of a handshake, and he is likely to be mistaken for security or housekeeping staff by other museum visitors. Being white (and male), for many of us, means that we have to work half as hard for twice as much. That’s why there is no such thing as “White History Month.”
I’d like to thank Jaysa Alvarez ’15, and Soledad Caballero, PhD for helping me to think through early drafts of this essay, M. Greg Singer ’15 and Jonathan Yee ’17 for their help in doing preliminary research and conducting artist interviews, Kazi Joshua for encouraging me to move ahead with the project, Eric Shiner for connecting me to some of the artists, and Ayanah Moor for helping me to see my own privilege, cultural blind spots, and racism. The project has been a journey of discovery and growth for me personally, and it is my sincere hope that the works in this show will spur conversations that are long overdue. Performing Blackness :: Performing Whiteness is part of the college’s Year of Voting Rights and Democratic Participation, which celebrates the 50th anniversary in 2015 of the Voting Rights Act and explores the state of civil rights, broadly defined, in the world today. The Year of Voting Rights and Democratic Participation is the academic centerpiece of the college’s bicentennial celebration.
This exhibition was made possible, in part, with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant for Collaborative Undergraduate Research in the Humanities at Allegheny College, as well as contributions from the following departments and offices at Allegheny College: the Art Department, Black Studies, Dance and Movement Studies, Philosophy and Religious Studies, Political Science, the English Department, the Center for Intercultural Advancement and Student Success, and the office of Diversity and Organizational Development.
Other support comes from the Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts (PPA), the regional arts funding partnership of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency. State government funding comes through an annual appropriation by Pennsylvania’s General Assembly and from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. PPA is administered in this region by the Arts Council of Erie.
1. Rich, Frank. “In Conversation. Chris Rock. What’s Killing Comedy. What’s Saving America.” December 1, 2014. http://www.vulture.com/2014/11/chris-rock-frank-rich-in-conversation.html
2. Kerby, Sophia. “The Top 10 Most Startling Facts About People of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States.” March 13, 2012. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2012/03/13/11351/the-top-10-most-startling-facts-about-people-of-color-and-criminal-justice-in-the-united-states/
3. American Civil Liberties Union. “Department of Justice Statistics Show Clear Pattern of Racial Profiling.” April 29, 2007. https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/department-justice-statistics-show-clear-pattern-racial-profiling
4. Rich, Frank. The whole interview is worth reading, see the link in the first footnote.
Sandra Brewster is a multi-media artist creating works that engage issues of race, identity, representation and memory. Born of Guyanese parents, her current focus is African Canadians born in North America and those who arrived in North America from the Caribbean during the 1960s and 70s. In this work she visually represents a sense of time and provides a platform to tell stories of “back home.” Her ongoing series, Smiths, questions prevalent assertions about the existence of a monolithic Black Community. Sandra holds a BFA from York University. Her work has been exhibited within Canada and internationally.
Steve Cole is an Art and Art History Professor at Birmingham-Southern College, in Birmingham, Alabama. For an exhibition timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the bombing at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four young girls on September 15, 1963, Cole created figurines portraying the various hate groups in the country such as the Ku Klux Klan, anti-gay groups, Neo-Nazis, and more. Cole called this installation, The Hate Project. The new work he created for Performing Blackness :: Performing Whiteness is based on the project.
Andrea Chung examines the influence of colonial and post-colonial regimes. Through sculpture, video, collage, and painting, she explores migration patterns and traces how cultures have been created through the influence of multiple mother cultures and geographic conditions. By manipulating stock photographs and other images used by the tourism industry, Chung creates a new series of narratives, which she juxtaposes against the stories told by both the Colony and the Imperial power to sell romantic notions about nature and labor.
Brendan Fernandes has exhibited internationally and nationally including exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Art and Design New York, Art in General, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, The National Gallery of Canada, The Art Gallery of Hamilton, Brooklyn Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Mass MoCA, The Andy Warhol Museum, the Art Gallery of York University, Deutsche Guggenheim, The Bergen Kunsthall, Manif d’Art: The Quebec City Biennial, The Third Guangzhou Triennial, and the Western New York Biennial through The Albright-Knox Art Gallery. His unique cultural background as a Kenyan-Indian-Canadian has confronted him with the hybrid and transitional nature of identity. He explores the thesis that identity is not static, but enacted, and this challenges accepted ways of thinking about what it is to have an authentic self. In his newest work, Fernandes is returning to his past life as a dancer. He highlights the various meanings that the body encapsulates: it is both a kind of object, endowed with cultural meaning, viewed by others and labored on by ourselves; and, it is also our expressive active access onto the world, constitutive of subjectivity and selfhood.
Vanessa German is a self-taught multidisciplinary maker, poet, and performer born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, raised in Los Angeles, California, and represented by Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York, NY. German was selected by the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts as the 2012 Emerging Artist of the Year. She is inspired by hand-me down treasures and midnight prostitutes on the stroll. She is inspired by police brutality survivor, Jordan Miles, and playing music too loud. She is inspired by taking matters into your own hands, the ricochet of the transcontinental slave trade, the western coast of Africa, the east coast of the Carolinas, the east end of Pittsburgh, and random gun violence. She is inspired by the difference between racism and prejudice, Trayvon Martin, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. She is inspired by, speaking in tongues, tongues speaking in hands, and instantaneously healing by the sight of a thing.
Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle is an interdisciplinary visual artist, writer and performer who integrates cultural criticism, personal narrative and historical research to interrogate structures of power concerning race and representation, and to question how those structures influence ideas of self. Her artwork and experimental writing has been exhibited and performed at The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY, Project Row Houses in Houston, TX, and The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, CA. Hinkle was the youngest artist to participate in the multi-generational biennial, Made in L.A., 2012. She was recently listed on The Huffington Post’s Black Artists: 30 Contemporary Art Makers Under 40 You Should Know. Hinkle was born and raised in Louisville, KY and currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.
Ayanah Moor is Associate Professor in Printmedia at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her creative tools include printmedia, performance, drawing and video. Moor’s work has been featured in books Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality and Blackness,and What is Contemporary Art? (University of Chicago Press) She has held artist residencies at Proyecto ‘ace (Buenos Aires, Argentina); Auckland Print Studio (New Zealand); Vermont Studio Center, (Johnson, VT); Women’s Studio Workshop, (Rosendale, NY); Blue Mountain Center, (Blue Mountain Lake, NY); and Atlantic Center for the Arts, (New Smyrna Beach, FL). Her work is currently on view in Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Moor holds a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and MFA from Tyler School of Art.
James Seward was born in El Paso, Texas in 1979. He studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design, receiving his B.F.A. Seward was awarded the National Scholarship for Portraiture from The American Society of Portrait Artists. Seward was awarded an honorable mention from the director of the Cleveland Museum, Katherine Lee Reid and nationally selected jurors in the 2005 Cleveland Museum of Art’s NEO Show. His painting My Father In The Living Room of Our 10th House was accepted into the first Boochever Portrait Competition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. and then went on to receive the “People’s Choice Award.” From 2005-2013 he worked as an assistant for the world-renowned artist, Jeff Koons. Seward lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Alisha Wormsley is a multi-media artist from Pittsburgh, PA. After studying anthropology and documentary arts at UC Berkeley, she began traveling, studying and creating different forms of art. Wormsley has been a teaching artist for many cultural institutions including, The Studio Museum of Harlem, Children’s Aid Society, The Romare Bearden Foundation, International Center for Photography, the August Wilson Center, and the Faith Ringgold School in Harlem. She has completed residencies and public projects in Santiago de Cuba, Project Row House in Houston, TX, and the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh PA. She was recently featured in the Pittsburgh Biennial 2014 at the Andy Warhol Museum.
Darren Lee Miller is Assistant Professor of Photography and Gallery Director at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. The themes to which he often returns in both his art work and his curatorial practice are power, identity, and social justice. Miller’s artwork has been featured in the book The Male Nude Now: New Visions for the 21st Century (Universe publishing). He has held artist residencies at Blue Mountain Center, (Blue Mountain Lake, NY); Homestead AK (Willow, AK) and the Baldwin Reynolds House Museum (Meadville, PA). His work will be on view at the Lycoming College Art Gallery from late February – early April, 2015. Miller holds a BFA from Alfred University and MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Darren Lee Miller (DLM): How would you describe your studio work generally? And how are your current works different from those for which you have become best known (Foe and Neo-Primitivism)?
Brendan Fernandes (BF): I would say that my studio work is process based, formed from ideas and concepts usually dealing with cultural or subcultural identity. I use my ethnic background and history as a Kenyan-born Indian who immigrated to Canada in my work. The account of my personal trajectory has a complex narrative, and in opening it up I want tell my story but I also want to influence and affect others who have similar migration paths. Currently I am returning to my past life as a dancer to question notions of labor via the performative gesture of moving in dance. All of my work deals with notions of hegemony and power dynamics. I am curious about the political backlash of Capitalism on our society.
DLM: Do you think your many home nations over the years have shaped not just your identity as a person who can claim multiple nationalities, but also the way you think about your own racial identity?
BF: Yes I definitely think that my multiple claims to “Home” and “Nationalities” influence my sense of being. I view identity as something that is in flux and constantly being negotiated and transforming. My experiences change and so do my places of existence. Race definitely is considered. Each place has its own complicated history, and race plays a role in all of these environments. I’ve had to negotiate my race differently in the places I call home and the places I visit. It is an ongoing process. Even in a globalized world, race still defines the ways people acknowledge a person.
DLM: We are considering race as it is defined in the USA, but a trip to Toronto reminds me that race is constructed differently in other places. I don’t know how old you were when you emigrated, but can you give us some insight into the different ways of thinking about race in say, India, or Kenya, or even Brooklyn?
BF: We’re considering race as the way to define a person by the colour of their skin, is this correct? If so, in Canada it would be defined by your ethnic culture, your background, the place you were born.
DLM: When I lived in Japan in 1999-2000, my skin color was pretty much the same as everyone else’s, but…
BF: But you were still a Gaijin, no?
DLM: I never lived under the assumption that I wasn’t an exotic foreigner. I was reminded of it daily, even when the language wasn’t a huge issue any more.
BF: Race is definitely an index of who a person is, and it can mean multiple things. The stereotypes about race are the real issues. As I mentioned before, I believe identity is formed via experiences and is constantly developing and changing. I was nine when I left Kenya and I haven’t returned, but when I do I will act as a tourist in that space. Obviously some things will be familiar, but much will be different. I am Indian. I embody a physicality that is South Asian, but when in India for the first time about 3 three years ago, I was lost and did not know the culture at all. Part of my work deals with the fact that I lost my ability to speak Swahili after immigrating to Canada. I did not use the language and forgot it.
DLM: Yes, it’s hard to maintain if not practiced. Do you think languages, and the choice to speak one over another are intrinsically political?
BF: In the USA, the average person only speaks English. In Europe everyone speaks multiple languages out of a geographical need. That said, languages carry power and currency.
DLM: What if I were to compare the spread of English as the world’s the lingua franca to gentrification? What do you think is gained and lost by the world’s embrace of English?
BF: I would say that it speaks to the Capitalist strategy of take over, a pyramid power structure where people are conditioned to want the same things as everyone else.
BF: Right. We are manufacturing a culture where everyone wants the same stuff, works toward the same material and cultural goals. Gentrification rejuvenates areas of cities, but the process also pushes out and disenfranchises communities, groups that were there first. The process replaces the original community with one of a “higher” class.
DLM: I’ve seen that again and again. As a middle-aged gay white man I’ve sometimes been unwittingly on the leading edge of gentrification, like when I lived in Washington Heights until I got priced-out, too. It would be difficult for me to afford to live in Manhattan again like I did in the mid-1990s. Do you think the subject positions we are forming in response to capital are authentic to ideas of self? How do you think the power dynamics of language, consumerism, etc. inform subject positions other than race, like gender, sexuality, class?
BF: I feel guilty too. I am able to live and make art, and have a political say, but I am part of the system
DLM: We are! I mean, we get to make art and talk about art for a living!
BF: That is a privilege. I live in Brooklyn and have watched my neighborhood change dramatically! I am now worried that I won’t be able to live in Brooklyn anymore. So as I claim to be part of the privileged it also is working against me. You’d be surprised, parts of Brooklyn are on par with Manhattan.
DLM: I used to be a snob and I rarely crossed the East River. But now I’m dating a man who lives in Puerto Rico. We Skype a lot.
BF: Is that the way of the future?
DLM: It is a longer commute than an hour on the A train. And again, here is our privilege. We can afford to travel to see each other. Do you think post-colonial life, war, diaspora, and the relative ease of international travel for those with the means to do so has a homogenizing effect on cultures? Do you think it matters?
BF: I feel people meet and cruise online now and that is how it is done, the new culture of dating. People who have that privilege normally don’t go off the grid. Most of those interactions are about sex. Everything in this new world is about fast transactions.
DLM: Do you think you address that in your work? Do you want to slow things down?
BF: In my dance work I am questioning the labor rights of how we value dancers in the performance mode, but also looking at how labor is valued as a whole. I do this by making endurance works that question stillness as an active action in the body that is not seen as rest or idle time. I am making a text work right now about how we call for bodies in dance and I’m making connections to the ways we look at bodies on gay hook-up apps like Grindr and Scruff. The body becomes a commodity.
DLM: Yes, this is something I’ve experienced in Yoga and Martial Arts. Maintaining stillness is a lot of work. I deleted all those apps, Grindr, Scruff, etc. from my phone ages ago. The interactions I had online were really undermining my self-esteem. I think the apps may be more productive for young urban people.
BF: We are looking for and asking for a certain type of body that is deemed aesthetically beautiful. It goes back to the quest in culture for us all to want the same thing.
DLM: Where do you look for inspiration in the newer dance work?
BF: I look at Ballet. Currently I am referencing the classical ballet company and the pyramid structure under which it operates.
DLM: What do you mean, pyramid structure? Do you mean there’s a rigid social/professional hierarchy?
BF: Yes, the classical ballet company ranks dancers. There is a hierarchy to the system. I am interested in the core des ballet dancers, the largest group in terms of numbers, but the lowest ranked in the company system. Their title translates to the “body of the ballet.” These dancers most always dance in a group and at times hold positions in stillness for lengths of time, while principals seemingly move more freely and have the opportunity to dance solos. I am curious about the notion of being still and being able to move freely in the ballet system as it relates to capitalism. Both sets of dancers are working, laboring in the performative gestures they endure, but they have been given rankings. Then I question the ballet master and the audience who sit and watch. The classical ballet will have the corps de ballet, soloists and the principals. You are put into a system where you want to move up, to get to the next phase.
DLM: So those who are low on the totem pole have to remain still on stage?
BF: They have less prominent roles, and at times must remain still and in the background. I did a piece where a corps de ballet dancer from the American Ballet Theatre performed an endurance sequence from a dance where she moved with cut-outs of herself. She was competing with a version of herself. At times, the cutouts became props and mixed into the scenery. Recall Swan Lake, where all the swans stand around the white swan as she dances
DLM: They are the flock. They move in unison, but not too much so as not to draw attention away from the soloist.
BF: They also have moments where they hold a position for a long time. It’s difficult.
DLM: How do you think we might relate this to questions about labor in consumer culture?
BF: We value certain work and negate others types of labor. The work is about the ballet but is making a greater statement about society and capitalism.
DLM: Often the most undervalued labors are the ones upon which the more esteemed jobs depend. The CEO makes six figures and the secretary may be paid hourly.
BF: I think about this from a Socialist viewpoint, positing Marxist theory. The CEO gains as the laborers work for him. Hence my query is about the ballet master who instructs and the audience who watches the laboring dancers on stage. We need to value all the labor that surrounds us.
DLM: What would you say to those who think Marxism is a failed anachronism, that capital’s triumph is self-evident in a unipolar world?
BF: Well, I don’t think the world we live in is a triumph, we have so many social issues, people living in poor conditions. War, famine, disease. People don’t understand Marxism because the social strategy has never been truly experienced. Humans have been too consumed with greed and power.
DLM: I think no one would disagree, but there are those who say that at least Capitalism embraces the reality of human greed, that the system requires winners and losers. Poverty is not a failure of Capitalism, but instead it is a required feature. Marxism, on the other hand, asks us to be not who we are as a species, but who we wish we were.
BF: Maybe we will never be able to reach the ideal goal, and so then what? At least Marxist theory can be a way to move and think forward. To give a sense of an imaginary. People being marginalized will at some point revolt. But I live in a very particular bubble and many will not agree with me.
DLM: So then, is it fair to say your work is a way to be optimistic?
BF: I look at the notion of the Marxist imaginary to find that place of tomorrow, to move forward in a community of “we,” where “I” is not part of the equation
DLM: Are you queering something with your work?
BF: Queer is a way for me to break definitions and allow us to exist in a common space. It is a moniker of inclusivity for me. I hope all my work is queer, but we don’t need to make it a subject. It will become self evident
DLM: I like to think of undermining and redefining as a way to queer things.
BF: Yes, a new definition. One that will evolve and develop. But I have to also say that Queer is a very privileged position. Queer has become very academicized, a buzz word. I have to acknowledge that the civil right to be a homosexual is not even an option in some parts of the world, let alone to define oneself as queer. And Academia is a place of Capitalism. School is big business, especially in the USA.
Darren Lee Miller (DLM): So you’re in Montreal doing a residency now. Where at? What are you working on?
Alisha Wormsly (AW): I’m in residence at Studio XX. It’s an artist run centre with a feminist art focus. They have a festival every 2 years during the biennial called HTMLLES and I am presenting works with my collaborator Lisa E. Harris
DLM: Can you tell me about HTMLLES? And the work you and Lisa Harris are doing for the biennial. I’m assuming you two are in the show.
AW: It’s a digital art new media festival. This year they are discussing Afro-futurism from a feminist and queer perspective.
DLM: Looks like HTMLLES is a play on HTML and LES, like fem or lesbian or the plural form of the French definite article, “the.” And what is Afro-futurism? I didn’t know it was a thing outside of what you have invented.
AW: Yeah, AfroFuturism is a big old movement. I think the term surfaced in the 90’s by writer Mark Dery. I think because there was a resurgence of futurism coming out of surrealism from the arts of the African diaspora
DLM: I’m just going off of what I’ve learned by viewing your works online, but I think mainstream cultural imagination about “the future” rarely includes darker faces. Yet, when I look at your work, and videos/styling for Janelle Monae’s ArchAndroid album, I can participate in the magical realist projection of futuristic blackness.
AW: Exactly. And Wangetchi Mutu, Sun Ra… In 2008, Lisa Harris and I started a series of cross disciplinary works and a collective called Studio Enertia. Those works all play with concepts of time, that everything that happened past, present, and future are all happening at the same time. For instance, how the history of ancient Egypt seems so far in the future. We have perceptions of time based on memory. You can see some of our works on this reel – https://vimeo.com/81726435
DLM: Then I think it’s appropriate that you’re often working with time-based media like video, where digital media make it even more possible to create collages that allow for the visual simultaneity of different times within one frame. It seems like you’re able to up-end linear notions of time moving in just one direction. The link to the video you just sent, “Slaves/Indians,” happening in various locations offers the viewer at least a little space for empathy with rootlessness. This is something so many of us take for granted — our ethnic or cultural identity, even when hybridized. It’s so common for a white person to say something like, “I’m half German and half Italian,” even if she is 3 or more generations removed from the ancestors who immigrated here.
AW: I have been very inspired by Zora Neale Hurston and in a book she wrote called Sanctified Church. She did field work in churches post-emancipation in the south where she found that in elevated spiritual consciousnesses, when people started “speaking in tongues” they were actually using African dialects.
DLM: So maybe the strong ties to the church in many African American communities is a way to access those roots again.
AW: Well, more. We all have the ability to speak African dialects if we push the bounds of our consciousness. It’s that our memory holds all of human existence.
DLM: And maybe speaking in patois or pidgin, even if they are just a few words or phrases, is another way?
AW: And we also have the ability to speak the languages that exist in the future. As for Slaves and Indians, that began while I was teaching at the MOMA. They had a retrospective of some of Yoko Ono’s work, and on the mezzanine there was a microphone set up. Standing alone. I never saw anyone speak on it. It was art to be interacted with, but no one did. So I began to think about what it means to have this platform in a place of conforming. A big white cube of squares (frames), a place where the art is boxed. So I talked to Lisa about it and we came up with the phrase, “Slaves and Indians. I wish I had roots, I wish I had roots.”
DLM: Did Yoko Ono see the piece? Also, I saw another video where the singer is performing in front of a Kara Walker piece. Did Walker see it? Have you heard from either of them?
AW: I don’t think either have seen it, but sending it to them is a good idea because we have been able to see how the work translates in different spaces and populations.
DLM: Concepts of time play a vital role in your work, from the tracing of genealogy to speculations of the future. How do you think oppressed cultures from the past affect our ideas about the future? And not just the oppressed cultures, but also the imperialistic cultures.
AW: Cultures are constantly forming and evolving, like a kaleidoscope or a machine. We are always trying to figure out the best way for it to work. We try to solve problems around survival and anticipate what could happen. It’s the same with oppression/imperialism. We keep disturbing and adapting. I hope we aim to adapt to a place where we protect our souls.
DLM: Is having legacies, a history, genealogy, and background that one can look back on an important commodity to have these days? And I wonder what kinds of new cultural identities are being formed now that will be meaningful in the future?
AW: But if everything is happening at the same time, then we are those oppressed cultures AND the imperialists. That legacy will always be in our memory as will our projects for a better future. We are always adapting and creating rituals and cultures. Look at Mormons or Kwanzaa.
DLM: I’m just trying to get my head around the idea that past and future are all now. And I read that too fast and for a moment pictured Mormons doing Kwanzaa.
AW: I mean one cultural identity might be fading, but it transforms into something else. I think about Mormons having Kwanzaa all the time.
DLM: That’s where surrealism comes into your work.
AW: Mormons will have Kwanzaa.
DLM: This is fantasy anthropology.
AW: Mormons are branching out and somewhere there is an African American family in the southwest who are Mormons having a Kwanzaa celebration. My degrees are in anthropology and I love science fiction, always have. I combine my favorite things and make stuff.
DLM: The subject matter is serious, and your treatment can be read as both serious and also playful.
AW: So, back to Zora!
AW: If after 300 years of violence, broken, the way you break a horse for generations, if even after that a human being still has the ability to remember their ancestral language that’s amazing! And what if that memory isn’t of the past but the future?
DLM: I hadn’t thought of it that way. It is amazing, and hopeful.
AW: Our memory is collective and exists outside of time.
DLM: Future memory sounds a very attractive concept
AW: I like it. That’s where I live, most of me anyways.
DLM: Documentation is just as important as the history it records. How are you creating new histories with your art? Future histories? Do you consider documentation to be an art form as well?
AW: I do. I am working on a video piece around a series of works I made, “there are black people in the future” artifacts. I went around Homewood (Pittsburgh) and collected items and encased them in resin.
DLM: So, you’re creating a kind of taxonomy? A cache of scientific specimens?
AW: Artifacts. Proof to me that if they existed in the past, they will always exist.
Darren Lee Miller (DLM): Why did you accept the invitation to be in this show?
Andrea Chung (AC): Because I’ve worked with you in the past, and because of the topic, code-switch. I believe that as Black folks, we have to perform in some sense of the word. Plus my friend Gene Demby is the person that started code switch. It originated from PostBourgie, a blog he created. There are a lot of good writers there. I also like showing my work in academic environments. Academic settings are more comfortable for me than commercial spaces.
DLM: Well, our space is explicitly an educational space for liberal arts undergraduate students, as well as the regional community. We’ve already started talking more directly about race on our campus. And then there are the events in Ferguson, MO recently, which many of my white relatives refuse to believe are about race. Race is not a common discourse among white people in America. It seems as though many ignore race and pretend racism doesn’t exist, rendering the structural violence of bigotry as not important, unnoticeable, or simply invisible. Why do you think that is?
AC: I don’t know why. Perhaps they are in denial? Perhaps they are so used to their privilege that they are incapable of seeing it? I mean, my husband and I (he more so than I) have been harassed by the police. Once we were accused of stealing our own car. There were 4 cop cars that stopped us. One officer threatened to arrest me because I was asking them why another cop was making physical contact with my husband. I was like GO AHEAD MFER! I have a clean record. I’m also very mouthy when I shouldn’t be, but I get tired of this shit.
DLM: I can understand that. And your last name sounds Chinese, so that must confound preconceptions.
AC: They weren’t worried about my last name. They were more concerned with my natural tan. Honestly I can’t understand the mindset of someone that thinks we are making this shit up. What do we have to gain? The right to live? After a while, I kind of stopped watching or paying attention to the daily Ferguson reports. It was too much and it made me angry for several reasons. And I have a two year old boy, so I have to be concerned.
DLM: How do you think we might engage people in the conversation? And, how do you think society’s biases affect how ethno-american peoples think of themselves?
AC: I have no idea how to answer that question. People have engaged in these conversations for over 40 years.
DLM: I’m hoping this show will help get a conversation going. But, yes, sometimes I feel like we pat ourselves on the back for a job that hasn’t even really been started.
AC: I know this sounds morbid, but I think it’s going to take a couple of generations to die and take some of that ignorance with them to the grave.
DLM: You know, I say the same thing. Those horrible old ideas will hopefully go extinct as older generations die off.
AC: They will never be extinct, they will only lessen to be replaced by something else. Humans are stupid that way. The number one thing people keep asking me is about raising my son. What do we tell him? I tell them I’ll continue to teach my son to love everyone, and understand that not everyone will love and accept him, but to not let that affect the person he becomes.
DLM: I’m going to try to flip this around a little. Are stereotypes always inherently harmful? Can they ever be used as tools?
AC: I think most are harmful, but I’m a firm believer in flipping them around and using them as tools to educate. I play with stereotypes or tropes in most of my work, and the goal is to give the subject some form of agency. There’s that saying, using the master’s tools to bring them down, or something like that.
DLM: Appropriating the language of the oppressor.
AC: There was a really interesting story on NPR about a woman from Trinidad who lives in Ferguson and her reaction to all of this. She couldn’t understand the protesters. She didn’t agree with what the police did; but at the same time, her relationship to race and blackness is different so it was not surprising but also disappointing that she didn’t get it.
DLM: West Indian identity is not like African-American identity?
AC: In the Anglophone Caribbean, most islands are predominantly black but there are exceptions. Trinidad has a large Indian-descended population, as does Guyana. But Jamaica, for example, is predominantly black and you aren’t thinking about your blackness every day. The issues there are around class.
DLM: How does your own identity come into your work? How has it been constructed over your lifetime?
AC: My identity has always been a part of the work. I spent a month in Jamaica this summer and it was the longest I’ve ever been there. It was such a relief to not have to worry about my skin. Nobody asked me about “Chung.” I wasn’t asked to show my ID when I paid with a debit card. It wasn’t until I was leaving and I was in the Montego Bay airport where you literally walk through an enormous replica of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville restaurant did I realize I was the minority in the airport. It was filled with sun burnt white people with braids in their hair or some other stereotypical tourist accoutrement.
DLM: How does ignorance about certain relationships to past cultures affect the way people perceive these cultures today? Is it important that people be aware of these relationships? Does it matter if people have no experience with Caribbean history when they view your work? Is accessibility even an issue for you?
AC: I want my work to be accessible but I don’t want the work to be too didactic, which it sometimes is. It’s hard though because you want the ideas to be conveyed when you’re speaking about cultural things. I don’t want to get it wrong, especially if I’m talking about a culture that’s not my own. I want to pay respect to the culture.
DLM: I know what you mean. I was tentative about curating this show.
AC: I don’t think you need to know all the history of the Caribbean to get the work, but I think people need to work a little harder. Sometimes people look at the work and only think of slavery and that’s not even what my work is about; or, they can’t understand how I would have the last name Chung, but my work clearly talks about migration.
DLM: When I saw your “Come Back to Jamaica” video, I thought about class, white privilege, “white-washing” difficult truths. The cut-outs were like redactions.
AC: I am very interested in labor, and my labor. I will never do one of those videos again, but it was part of the work. 905 hand cut frames, and that was after slowing down the video.
DLM: Imagine how different that would have been if you’d employed a team of Jamaicans to do that for you, and if you paid them whatever is the minimum wage there.
AC: It would be a different kind of piece.
DLM: Why are you interested in post-colonial countries, especially those in the Caribbean? Does your own identity as a Caribbean American play into your interest?
AC: It started off as me investigating who my grandparents were, why they were in Jamaica, trying to do some genealogy, and it became a larger investigation.
DLM: Can you describe how you did some of the research that led you to create your works?
AC: My grandmother used to walk around selling foods in Coronation Market, Kingston. She eventually died getting her second leg amputated due to diabetic gangrene. That became my first sculpture. I cast my leg out of sugar as a way to give it back to her. It brings up sugar, the history of sugar, and it opens things up to a larger discussion.
AC: Then I started looking at other places that shared that history and that’s how I ended up in Mauritius.
DLM: Colonialism. Capitalism. It’s surprising to me how much of that bloody history revolves around sugar, spices, and food.
AC: I always joke that food must have been HORRIBLE in Europe.
DLM: Like you, I’ve always wondered how it was that things had gotten so bad in Europe. I grow most of the food I need in my front yard. What were they missing?
AC: Your front yard doesn’t look the same as it did 500 years ago. We’ve re-imagined what our lands look like. And there’s no need to wonder. Look at the way things are here in the USA with the chase for oil and fracking. It was the same thing in Europe back then. They dismantled their forests, depleted their resources, and had to go other places for things.
DLM: Yes, landscape is an idea. Nature is a man made concept. And we are profligate. I’m reading Simon Schama’s book right now, Landscape and Memory. The chase after commodities is what imperialism is about. Food seems to play a large role in your works. Do you think food make your works more accessible to people?
AC: Yes, definitely. It’s sensual in a way. You can seduce people into a space with the smell of food. In my earlier sculptures, it was the smell that really attracted the viewers. You could smell the work before you saw it. It made people hungry.
DLM: Since we’re talking about colonialism and sustenance, I want to shift gears a little to segue to your project, “Catchin Babies, Colonizing Black Bodies.” How is that going?
AC: I’ve collaborated with Dr. Alicia Bonaparte on this project. Her work is about black midwives of the American south, particularly in the Carolinas. Bonaparte discusses the persecution and prosecution of black midwives and touches on how they functioned in the south in both pre and post slavery. Midwives also functioned as healers as and were a necessity because people in rural areas couldn’t get to a doctor. Some of the white doctors who trained with the black midwives later went on to establish gynecological practices based on that training, and then tried to get the nanny/granny midwives banned from practicing. It was really interesting research so we decided to do a project researching Jamaican midwives.
DLM: Is this leading to a studio project for you?
AC: We are doing a comparative study where we interview midwives, the people who knew them, and some of the people delivered by midwives. I just received a residency in San Diego where I will have a studio for 3 months, and we will be making work based on that research. My grandmother was a registered midwife in Trinidad, so I’m might work with her image.
Jonathan Yee (JY): How would you describe the work that you do?
Ayanah Moor (AM): I’ll say what interests me… I’m interested in familiar gestures. I like work that features different points of access whether I’m working with drawing, print media, performance or video.
JY: You have stated before that you’re very much interested in pop culture, especially hip hop culture, and how that affects our lives. Could you describe why you have an interest in hip hop?
AM: Hip hop is the culture of my generation. But when I use the language hip hop, what I imagine, what I feel is radically different than the corporate rap product popularized today. What I grew up hearing and seeing, and in some ways was participating in, barely resembles what is distributed and sold to the world right now.
JY: It sounds like hip hop is a big part of the cultural histories that you seem to invoke in your work. Are there any other legacies (cultural, racial, or even personal) that come into play within your work?
AM: Part of what I remember about hip hop in the 80s and early 90s was the participation of women, girls who were mc’s in particular. A feature of much of my work recently has been the display of voice. I am interested in text as a way of sharing voice… I am very intrigued by the complexity of words right now. the way words look, the viewer’s quite reading, how words index time. There’s also that quality in the text in which the viewer/reader makes assumptions about authorship. I rarely represent words I’ve authored, I’m curious about the ways the viewer makes sense of words like, “I” or “we” or “us” just as I am with the words “white” or “black” for example.
JY: The last words in particular tend to make some viewers uncomfortable, since race isn’t really a common discourse anymore, at least in everyday life. It seems as though people ignore race now and pretend it doesn’t exist. Why do you think people are discomforted by the idea of race, and do you try to make it so that any viewer can engage your work in a racial context?
AM: Today the word “race” largely functions to mark anyone who is not white. Why is that? everyone has a stake in the way race functions. For some there is an automatic expectation that readings of “race” means addressing blackness. I am interested in the viewer identifying race as whiteness as well. Readings of victimization are popular, but what about interrogating power? Right now my heart is heavy with the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, where there’s protesting about the killing of an unarmed teen by police. If there’s discomfort about readings of race in artwork or any work in America, it is grounded in an history of oppression and power, where white bodies are more valuable than black bodies.
JY: You’ve stated in the past a reluctance to be included in shows that deal exclusively with racial themes. What was it about Performing Blackness::Performing Whiteness that attracted you to it?
AM: Again, it is popular to interrogate blackness. Words like “mainstream” and even “America” are often code for “white.” It’s more common for us to name everybody else except white people. what I appreciate is that this show isn’t called, “Performing Blackness” and staring all black artists. I value that the show includes, “Performing Whiteness” and the content that affords. Black people should not be expected to do all the work of interrogating race. Racially themed shows that I’ve been critical of very often hide whiteness and protect white viewers from participating in the dialogue or the work. That is a form of power and privilege. I am interested in calling that out when I see it.
Jonathan Yee (JY): Please describe the type of work you do as an artist.
James Seward: I am working on a series called Weeping and Wailing, this body of work investigates the act of crying. Crying is one of the most common expressions of human emotion, a form of communication that precedes language. Tears are universal but painfully individual, they express our most intimate and authentic emotions and yet they are unique to humans in that we are the only species that produce tears of sorrow or joy.
This series depicts the unconscious pain that lies beneath the surface of everyday experience. My subjects, painted in tightly cropped environments with minimal narrative background show their sadness, sorrow, anxiety, anger or fear. At times the subject is iconic, taken from film, pop culture, or world history. In this case the viewer can identify and give context to the piece. At other times the subject is anonymous so the viewer is left to his or her own interpretation and reflection.
Darren Lee Miller: The crying Indian reminds me of the old forest service ads on TV from the 70s and 80s, reminding us not to litter and not to start forest fires. Is the image based on those ads?
JS: Yes, it is inspired from the public service ads, the commercial with the crying Indian was broadcast on the first Earth Day. The actor’s name was Iron Eyes Cody.
DLM: One of the things that strikes me as strange in hindsight about that ad campaign, is how it traded on the trope of Native American as “noble savage” and “wise earth steward.” In terms of race, how do we work against stereotypes, especially those that are mistakenly seen as positive? For example, the stereotype that every Asian American is a violin prodigy and the class valedictorian?
JS: I agree, I have studied Native American history for several years, and there are cases of pollution and environmental destruction well before European contact. And yet the myth continues, just as in race, stereotypes are just oversimplified ideas that are projected onto selected groups of people. I bring those projections into question by turning them into exaggerated imagery.
DLM: And then there is the depiction of sadness, to which we all can relate.
JS: Suffering is beyond race and ethnicity. It ties us together.
JY: I’m also curious about your super-slick surfaces. It’s almost like your paintings don’t tell us they are paintings. What is the surface they’re painted on? Does your work in Jeff Koons’ studio inform your stylistic and material choices? Can you talk a little about the processes and materials, and let us know if your choices about medium relate to the themes in the works.
JS: I currently paint on dibond which is a composite made of 2 strong sheets of aluminum with a thermoplastic core, its a great substrate to work on because it provides flexibility, durability, and it is extremely light and strong. You have to prepare the polymer surface with a specific primer before painting. There is not much tooth on the surface which allows the paint to glow. The pigments can remain more saturated than painting on canvas or linen. The slickness is a result of working for Koons. I worked in his studio for 8 years and it definitely changed the way I painted. Jeff never liked any type of brush work, he did not want any trace of the human hand. I am currently trying to loosen up my painting process in this series. When the pieces are seen in person, the brushwork is more apparent.
JY: would you say that portraiture is your favorite art form? What is it that interests you?
JS: As a child I would watch my uncle paint portraits for commissions. I was captivated by the whole process. He told me that the figure was the most difficult thing to paint, and I agree.
JY: Is there a reason you like doing hyper-realistic portraits even though photography more or less eliminated the need for realistic paintings over a century ago?
JS: My cousin is also a portrait painter so I guess it runs in the family. Portraiture provides a trifold relationship between me and the subject and the viewer. It provides a template for a story that I wish to communicate; however, it is not my favorite art form.
JY: Could you expand on this trifold relationship within portraits and explain how your own identity comes into play?
JS: The viewer must engage with the subject. On a subtle level there is already a relationship that is created with the portrait. It is a natural process because we as individuals relate to and communicate with other individuals. Within this relationship, there are narratives that come into play, stories inherent in the subjects. So it is through the subject that a relationship is created with me, the artist. The portrait acts as a messenger. The trick and challenge is in the subtlety. Leaving enough space for the viewer to explore.
JY: What is it about Performing Blackness::Performing Whiteness that made you want to participate?
JS: I think race and ethnicity are important issues in America. We live under the myth that we all have equal opportunities in life, including access to good healthcare and education. This exhibition is an exciting opportunity to inquire into what race means today, how far we as a society have gone in evolving past certain prejudices, and how far we have yet to go.
Darren Lee Miller (DLM): Can you describe something you’re working on now?
Kenyatta Hinkle (KACH): I am continuing work on The Uninvited Series in which I collage and draw on top of colonial era photographs taken of West African women by French colonist and I am working on a large scale project concerning a contested geography that people do not know exists. It is called Kentifrica and I have developed a diasporic museum called The Kentifrican Museum of Culture.
DLM: From what I’ve seen in that series, so far, it feels historiographic. What would you like your viewers to discover when they see your works?
KACH: I would like them to re-discover their relationship to notions of the exotic and to question the perceptions that we historically and presently place onto the black female body, and on all the bodies of people who hail from geographies that we may not be intimately familiar with.
DLM: Much of your work has to do with how the black female body has been constructed, construed, and contextualized over the years. How do you think society contextualizes these bodies today? Has anything changed?
KACH: If things changed my artwork would be 95% different. I am so compelled to talk about these issues because a majority of the works are sources from lived experiences. I started collecting cartes de viste to study the hairstyles, which then lead me to researching the forced/constructed poses that the women were positioned in. After I became familiar with the constructions of the images I went to Spain on a class trip and was mistaken for a West African prostitute due to the human trafficking trade! It seemed as if all of the historical narratives of the exotic African body that were peddled throughout Europe followed me along the whole trip. It was devastating to say the least. A term that I use for this relationship to historical marking and naming in relationship to our bodies and the geographies we travel within is the Historical Present, because we constantly have to negotiate our collective relationships and roles to history and its residue.
DLM: Race and exoticized bodies are not a common discourse, especially in white America. It seems as though the majority now ignores race and pretends racial problems no longer exist, even in light of Trayvon Martin and Ferguson. Why do you think that is? I don’t know how these things are talked about (or swept under the rug) in Europe.
KACH: I think that it is a complicated hyper-visibility and hyper-invisibilty that black bodies negotiate in relationship to white America and the construction of whiteness. In Europe I was hypervisible because it was homogeneously white and I stood out like a sore thumb, but I was also hyper-invisible because in such a homogenous environment my presence did not count. I was merely a prop to project desires onto. It didn’t feel as if I were human. Even so called “white people” have to abide by certain parameters to uphold their “whiteness.” It is essentially a haunting and violent performance of identity that chains the Other and the one defining the Other in a vicious cycle of doing and undoing that strips our collective humanity. In America, racial prejudice is the foundation of our whole economic standing and within the mixture of our bloodlines. It’s a deep dark history that people deny because I feel that our history is based upon the dichotomy of good and evil. There is so much guilt wrapped up in the white American consciousness that citizens of this country that will not allow people to face the facts that African-Americans/Black people are still not being treated like human beings. I did a show called Kneegrow in the New World during grad school at CalArts in which I was dealing with language and how the black body has been historically labeled. Upon the main wall of the gallery I made the word perform, starting with tiny nnnnn(s) that then became gigantic NNNNN(s), ending with the tiny letters, igger. During critique, a white student felt like he could be absolved from the presence of the word in the gallery screaming at him. He looked condescendingly at me while pointing at the wall and said, “I don’t use that word.” I pointed to the wall and said to him, “Just because you do not use ‘that word’ does not mean that you are a good white person and incapable of being racist. There are so many ways to call someone a Nigger without even saying it.” Growing up in Louisville, KY I learned that a smile could mean, “Nigger, get the fuck out of here.” I found his fear of the word, and his well-intentioned desire to police my use of the word on my own terms, was disturbing to both of us.
DLM: And yet I am unable to utter that word now, and probably for similar reasons. A black friend from Tennessee says she prefers the more straight forward racism of the south to the passive-aggressive racism of the north. What really changed my outlook was not my fear of being perceived as a racist, but my ability to look at my own subject position honestly and acknowledge my relative privilege. Do you see the gallery space as a place for social education?
KACH: I totally agree with your friend! In the South you know that your neighbor may be racist or the cashier at the grocery store but you all still have to live with the existence of one another. By being upfront with one’s prejudice it creates sincerity and honesty in a weird way. The student did not want to look at his relative privilege, which I think we all should do no matter what race or ethnicity we identify with. In response to your question in the gallery a space for social interaction…YES! I believe that art has the power to inspire change and to disrupt the fabric of oppressive thinking and actions, IF everyone is allowed to participate in the discussion. That is why within the majority of my projects I seek to have a dialogue and a collaboration with viewers, in order to unpack meetings together. Usually I include a notebook in which people can write their thoughts and reactions to the pieces within the exhibition space, and after the show I process the feedback or I make it a point to schedule some sort of intimate talk in which I can answer any questions that the viewers may have so that we all are teaching and learning from one another. I feel that my generation has a fear of being didactic, so they are not taking much of a clear stance or position in their works. I think that when we do that we assume that the audience does not have a mind of their own and does not have the power or agency to agree or disagree. I think that art should elicit a dialogue between viewer and audience that allows us to go home and mull over ideas and apply them to our everyday lives. I am so inspired by Rick Lowe, Adrian Piper, Mel Chin, Theaster Gates, and so many others who tackle issues of race, class, privilege, and power.
DLM: For some, race can be a sensitive and almost taboo subject to talk about, as we both noted above. How does your work seek to engage viewers to start thinking within the framework of race? Specifically black femaleness? Could you describe your concept of historical resin? How it affects the black female body?
KACH: I remember someone saying that my work had no entry point to it when I did the installation for the Kneegrow in the New World. My response was that there was a door to the gallery, you walk in and out of it. Many people were terrified of the show, but some people felt comfortable in the space reciting my text drawings as monologues. Some people of color were thankful that I chose to speak about the subject matter. I loved the polarities and complexities of the reactions and welcomed all of it. I work with photographs people are used to seeing of beautiful half naked African women. I draw on top of them and cover the bodies, give them weapons or make them almost grotesque. The viewer’s gaze is met by the eyes of the women, so the gaze is taken back. When I started researching the photographs, I noticed that the women were placed into the same poses as women from hip hop magazines such as Vibe and XXL. I began placing the historical and contemporary images side by side, and then I noticed that some contemporary images were more blatantly exoticizing racial body types. The major resin that I speak of is my body being a site/marker of prostitution, because within certain geographies these stereotypes informed by slavery, hegemony, and colonialism have withstood centuries of social change. The old and new images paint a portrait of the black female body as ready, available, hypersexed and willing to give the viewer what ever he or she wants. Now that I think about it a huge component of the Spain trip was that not only did the men think I was a prostitute, but on four different occasions men pulled out their penises and began masturbating in front of me! If this isn’t historical resin I am not sure what is. When I complained to the teachers on the trip they did not believe me. One white male teacher asked me what was I wearing, insinuating that it was somehow my fault. I was stepping into history and nothing had changed. Once when I was up at 4am in the hostel, traumatized by the situation, a Spanish man came up to the window and began banging on the glass while masturbating. At this point I felt as if I was Saartjie Baartman in a cage, like an animal for the amusement of European audiences. This was indeed the Historical Present, and some deep dark craziness.
DLM: Saartjie Baartman traveled 19th century Europe as part of a freak show exhibit called, “The Hottentot Venus.” Almost two centuries later, you felt as if you were on display. I’m sorry that happened to you. You describe the Kentifrica Project as an effort to combine your histories of Kentucky and Africa, and spreading the ethnographic culture to others through collaboration and participation. Could you describe your idea of Kentifrica to us? Why bring together these two different cultures (colonial-era depictions of bodies and images of women in popular hip-hop magazines) under one project? And does appropriation become an issue?
KACH: This body of work started as an investigation to find the missing gaps concerning my personal ancestry. My ancestors hail from parts of West Africa and Kentucky. I began to merge these identities into one existence in which prior definitions became blurred. Through my continued research a platform to engage with the construction of culture, history and display began to emerge. I am taking on the role of griot, anthropologist, writer, archivist, poet, journalist, and museum director. Throughout the years the project has become bigger than my auto-ethnographic investigation to include complex layers and intersections of collective imagining. Kentifrica is located near South America and West Africa so there are so many varieties of cultural influences. The project is about creating one’s own archives and terms of engagement for who they are how they want to be represented, instead of letting the victors of history create those terms for us. The ethnographic photography series called The Uninvited is a separate body of work, but shares various threads in relationship to defining the undefined, archival practices, and myth-making. I brought the hip hop images and the postcard images together solely for research purposes so that I could deconstruct how the European sexualized poses have translated throughout history upon the black female body. In terms of appropriation being an issue, I consider the photographs to be historical documents that I am cutting up and rearranging. I am not trying to speak for the women in the photograph, but I am interrupting the narrative and transforming the power dynamics of the gaze. For years I have been uncomfortable with work in The Uninvited Series because I did not want to appear as if I were stealing images from another culture and once again putting them within a harmful context through their recirculation.
DLM: Your work involves a lot of research and a lot of collaboration across multiple academic fields, and concerns with horticulture, archeology, and ethnography. Do your research practices have any effect on your techniques as a visual artist and performer? Does your background in creative writing affect your studio work?
KACH: The Kentifrica Project involves creative writing. I have written several scores, musical scores and spoken word performative scores. I am a huge fan of digging into archives and creating my own. Sometimes I spend months and months researching and writing and then I go into the studio and spit everything out. There would be no visual art without my research for me. Research and writing grounds and sustains my practice. I am trained as a painter and while I enjoy painting, there was something about being holed-up in my studio for hours on end and then showing the “finished product” in a white cube that made me feel alienated from the world, and wasn’t in line with my personality and desire to work with others to affect change from the ground up. Don’t get me wrong, I like my painter’s solitude sometimes, especially for my work with the postcard images; but, I also have to have balance and be able to make connections with others outside of my own positionality.
DLM: Is there anything you wanted to say that we haven’t talked about?
KACH: This was a wonderful interview and I am so excited to see how the show comes together. The piece that I plan to show at Allegheny is called, The Cross Examination. It is an endurance piece that I revisited from a 2010 piece in which I have a direct address with the video camera. I challenged myself to hold my mouth wide open until I couldn’t sustain the action any longer. The original title was How Long Can I Keep My Mouth Wide Open Like A Beast however upon revisiting it I realized that I was now at a different point within my practice, within my life and within my position as a citizen. I wanted to critique the policing of black bodies going on nationwide in response to Trayvon Martin, and now Ferguson, so the piece has became a silent yet charged protest. It also gestures back to auction blocks in which the health of a slave was determined by peering into his or her mouth.
Greg Singer (MSG): I was wondering if you could start by describing the type of work that you do.
Sandra Brewster (SB): I am really focused on folks from the Caribbean who came here during the 1960s and 70s. Many people came here through various movements as well as on their own because of conditions “back home”. My family is from Guyana and came here because of economic conditions there. Like many, they felt a need to leave their country and settle some place where their lives could be positively influenced – so they can begin again with a better quality of living for themselves as well as for any children they would have. These children are my generation, so I’m interested in these groups of people and how this North American society has influenced their relationships with environment, and each other.
SB: Allowing this theme to influence my work, I create charcoal based drawings, mixed media work and I use any other media that I feel would best execute what I’m attempting to convey. For example, a few years ago I created a video in which I interviewed a series of senior Caribbean folks, requesting them to share stories that describe their first experiences in Canada, while comparing the environment to that of their home country. I chose to do a video as it captured the emotional connection these folks still have with the concept of “back home,” and I felt it was important to show them settled in a space they’ve created for themselves here – which in most cases is a living room. Also, I am currently working on a series of animations that are playfully expressing some of this, and other topics, while using a recurring theme in my work called “Smith.” The Smiths has a playful quality about it that I believe translates into animation well. This series is made up of afro-wearing characters, the area of the face replaced with image transfers of the Smith pages of the phone book. Their bodies are simply rendered shapes that appear to float.
MSG: Why choose the name, Smith?
SB: It started out as a playful creative activity, then turned into a way of expressing specific concerns that communities are focused on. I use it to narrate stories based on truth and fantasy, and recently represented Smiths in large panel grids with transferred images of actual people who challenge mainstream representation. The idea is to represent the diversity that we find within communities. The series began with an awareness that on a mass scale this was not being seen – that there is a notion of monolithic communities.
MSG: Smith was chosen as a name because of the space it takes up in the North American phone directory, its mainstream use to represent anyone and no one, a label that takes up space yet simultaneously deemed invisible.
MSG: What sort of reactions to the work have you received?
SB: People react in different ways. Some are attracted simply by the aesthetics, others relate to the afro which is considered a “cool” symbol for Black folks – harkening back to the civil rights movement and retro-fashion. People say they relate to the idea of being seen as a number or type and not as an individual, and because the work is not executed in a representational way I think folks are intrigued by it. The reactions would also depend on the context of the piece.
SB: In my series Strip I used The Smiths as representatives of the community. This series of drawings was a collaboration with a spoken word artist named Joseph Daly. I asked him to write an imaginative poem influenced by the gun violence happening in Toronto during a period that was termed “year of the gun.” Each drawing represented a line of the poem. The Smiths at times were witnesses to a shooting, other times they were folks who had done wrong, and they also represented lovers kissing in a crystal ball representing hope. Because of the context of this work, people were quite moved as we all were looking for ways to express our concerns for what was happening in the community, young men being killed, people being left behind. We continue to search for reasons why this occurs..
SB: I attended Alice Yard, a residency in Trinidad during the winter of 2013 and transformed The Smiths into The Mohammeds, the name that takes up the largest section of the phone directory there. Among the works created were a mural and aluminum figures that I called, Mohammeds. Folks thought it was funny, and they were intrigued by its representation and execution. For many, the afros reminded them of turbans, and the common name of many of the Indian people who were brought as workers to Trinidad referred to a historical presence. I wouldn’t say that this was my initial intention. I was looking for ways to allow a different location to influence my work. The work was also a comment on Carnival – using The Mohammeds in a wall installation representing carnival dwellers encountering then encircling a transferred image of a bikini wearing carnival player. I was expressing the sign that parts of carnival do not represent, the artistic performance engagement that was once fostered. The aluminum pieces, called, Mohammed Stands were situated throughout the residency grounds, and like a procession they traveled toward the wall installation.
MSG: I think it’s interesting that these pieces can have different meanings for different people like that, separate from the original intent, and that people can sympathize with them in that way.
SB: Yeah, The Smiths traveled. It felt cool. When I got there I decided to just start working on what I knew, and I was just sketching The Smiths in grids when it occurred to me that it would make sense to change the name according to the location. I would love to have that experience again in another place without being so literal. I think the folks who see The Smiths and The Mohammeds are represented in them. They are meant to be us.
MSG: Are The Smiths coming to Performing Blackness :: Performing Whiteness?
SB: I will be bringing them in some context, absolutely.
MSG: What aspect of Performing Blackness::Performing Whiteness attracted you to the show and made you want to be a part of it?
SB: I had mentioned before that my focus is on folks from the Caribbean, people who are of African descent who are negotiating a space that in many ways although it is very much our own, it belongs to us, we are also making it our own. In that sense we are playing many roles. The point is that the performance should be unnecessary.
Greg Singer (MSG): How you would describe the type of work you are currently doing.
Steve Cole (SC): My latest work is small figurines made from Hydrocal, (a form of fortified plaster). The work revolves around the 939 hate groups in the U.S. as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
MSG: Yes, The Hate Project. Why seek to show attention to these harmful groups?
SC: To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.” These groups still exist. A visual illustration of the problem can impress an audience with the problems of intolerance and the dangers of being silent.
MSG: How did you decide upon the materials?
SC: For the Hate Project, I wanted to visually map the headquarters of the hate groups on a map of the United States so that viewers could see what was in their own backyard. Since there were over 1,000 they needed to be fairly small, around 8″-12″. I had never cast before and doing something new is always exciting, and cast white plaster figures on a bed of black coal slag seemed beautiful. Regardless of message, you want the viewers enticed to an experience. Then they can begin to interpret the message and respond.
MSG: What sorts of reactions to the work have you received?
SC: Most people are overwhelmed by the numbers and the fact that many of these groups are so close in proximity to them. Many assumed that these groups have died off, but the percentage of hate groups has increased by some 56% since the year 2000.
MSG: Do you in any way relate this project to your previous work, such as “Believe” and “The Hate Mandala”? Do your personal experiences or geographical location inform these works?
SC: “Believe” was using only the literal interpretation of the Bible. Everything from this very extreme view, be it science or another religion, was false and therefore there was justification for intolerance against gays and many others. The “Hate Mandala” followed an exhibition in our gallery by Buddhist Lama Deshek, who created a beautiful mandala meant to symbolize the perfected form of qualities such as compassion and wisdom, and to promote harmony in the world. My “Hate Mandala” served to remind that as harmony and peace can grow with the smallest of actions by the compassionate, so may hate if left unchallenged and unchecked.
MSG: What about this show, Performing Blackness::Performing Whiteness, made you want to be a part of it? What kind of voice do you hope to bring to the conversation?
SC: I have seen the work of the other artists in the exhibition and am honored to be included. My work is about tolerance and compassion. My hope is that viewers will see that, while gains have been made, there is still much to be done. The following quotes sum up my feelings.
“Barbarism, like the jungle, does not die, but only retreats behind the barriers that civilization has thrown up against it, and waits there always to reclaim that which civilization has taken from it.” –Will Durant
“Knowledge, tolerance and understanding are civilization’s barriers, and they remain in place only so long as the forces of good are there to maintain them.” –Bob Schieffer
Darren Lee Miller (DLM): Other people who have seen your older work might know you more as a performer than a maker of objects. That’s what comes up when I do an online search for you. How do you think about your work as a performance artist as being related to, and also maybe being different from the work you make as a visual artist.
Vanessa German (VG): I am scripting most of the work that I perform, and I am mining the language for those performances from the language that I’ve encountered on the street. Literally on the street in the neighborhood around me, but I also think of it as mining my soul. There’s a way I write where I think about opening a doorway at the center of my chest that goes into my soul, and I let my soul speak. I literally will write the words that my soul says to write. And I write for lots of different reasons. Sometimes I write really, really personal work, and I write it because I need it to get me through something. Or sometimes I write a work that has a purpose more for the audience than for myself. Sometimes I’m performing kinds of spells. So, there are similarities in that and the work that I create sculpturally, because some of it is of course very personal and some of it is created for both the audience and me.
There are power figures that I create sculpturally, and I am creating them much like I create a performance which is like an accumulated language. Every object, every symbol is its own word or phrase, so the accumulation of them together, sculpturally, is literally one performance work. The two modes are posing different questions for future making to happen. Its about juxtaposing ideas and things to allow the different conversations to happen in the future, because a lot of the work that I’m creating is made to it look as though it’s already old, but it’s not. It might be three or four months old, but I make it look like it’s a lot older. If the object were an artifact from 200 years ago, if it looks like it’s really old, then what does that mean for the conversation we have about this precious, black thing right now? And what does that mean about conversations for the future? It is about time travel, literally. In 200 years, what will they say about this object that looks like it’s four hundred years old? And what does that mean for the reality of people whose look likeness is represented by the object? What does that mean for people who conserve objects?
DLM: Two other artists in this show is working with future histories, and creative ways to think about our place in time. Can you talk a little bit more about history, or the future?
VG: Another kind of visual tradition, like a visual legacy that I am consciously working inside of is purely instinctive, because there is so little that I know about my family story. I dated a girl who could trace her family back to some Dutch kings and queens, like they had family crests and all this stuff, and it was something that she could speak about with certainty. I don’t have that, so a lot of times when I’m working visually, I actually think of the soul as technology. I make it a point to think about the technology of the soul the same way we think about the technology of the iPhone, which is, like, “We’re still learning, there are still obvious places that we can go.” So, literally, when I think about opening the door in my soul and letting what is most instinctive and innate come out free of judgement, without any kind of expectation, I let the eye in the hand of my soul lead me places because there is such a legacy of wisdom within my human body and brain and within our DNA. I don’t necessarily need to know what those things are called to know that they’re present, or to even allow them to come out. So what happens is, like opening the hand and the eye in the door of my soul and letting that which is innately possible be as unconfined as possible. And then sharing the work with historians and other people who expect certain things, and asking, Where have you seen this type of work before? Where have you experienced these things?
And then there are things that I’ve learned that I still count on, that I’m still learning about. Like the tradition of power figures, the tradition of makers in communities who make objects and experiences. The idea that there are people within your community who contribute intimately to your psychological, spiritual, and physical well being. Tapping into a legacy that is far older than history, finding all those different ideas and connecting them with the fact that most of the captives who were slaves in America came from only two places. And one of those two places was the place that had a tradition of using materials the way black folk healers use them, even though they were working from instinct, not historical knowledge. So that’s the way that these things reveal themselves through that which is innate.
DLM: One of the things I find so interesting about the tragic legacy of slavery and colonialism is that there is a chance that you could also be related to your ex-girlfriend’s royal European family line. There’s just no way to know.
VG: For me that’s a really beautiful truth. I can hear connections between the songs that the slaves were singing in Louisiana and Mississippi and traditional Irish songs.
DLM: They do sound similar.
VG: I love the celebration of that connection.
DLM: But I don’t look at your work and think it’s earnestly celebratory. Your power figure series makes use of derogatory images of people of color while also using found objects and imbuing them with this kind of magical power that you were just talking about. Do you think that these are contradictory images of oppression and empowerment, or do you think that we are oversimplifying by making it a kind of binary like that?
VG: There’s a book about how Aunt Jemima and Uncle Moe came to be derogatory, because there was a time when we believed they weren’t. Here’s this image. Here are these shapes. Over time they’ve had different meanings. The reality for me is that there are black skinned people with large asses, large lips, flat noses, and incredibly kinky hair. I don’t call images of “those people” derogatory. They’re living their lives. They’re my neighbors. They’re me. We represent ourselves. I think we’re beautiful. It was really a matter of marketers who were making decisions about these images and saying, “This is how we will keep these people in their place,” and there were books written about it. So, the reality is I know people who look a certain way. The problem is other people representing us.
I don’t think we’re ugly. I don’t think that we’re too black to be good. I don’t think anything like that. I’m confronting the mind and mechanism of a society that would take that which is natural and would twist and tangle it and so that some images become derogatory and debased. And that is what is happening to the actual humans who are represented. I’m honoring the lives of those who fight against prejudice. You know, you have black PhD’s graduating from Harvard, and then you have white supremacists trying to undermine the humanity of black people. It’s a process of reclamation, deep prayer, deep future building, and reclaiming the forms, words, and shapes. I reclaim images. It’s not a matter of redefining things. I am a black woman of size, of certain nose-ness and kinky hair-ness, but I’m also doing it for the white people who I love and care but who have been tricked or poisoned into believing that some types of people are worth less than others, or that some of us are less beautiful, less powerful, less artistic, all sorts of less. It’s a process of restorative justice.
DLM: I love the term “future making” that you’ve used a few times, and also this idea of reclamation. When viewers are looking at your work, what would you say is the main question you want them to ask themselves?
VG: I wish I could say that I cared. I can tell you the questions they ask me, or that they ask the gallery. Is this an African-American artist? Black people who see my work ask, Why are the figures sooo black? Why aren’t some of them coffee colored? Or more like caramel?
DLM: Do these questions piss you off?
VG: None of them do because I understand where it comes from. I really do. For most black people, we come up in a world where everything you start judging, from the time language is coming to you, is about your skin color. I see it with kids on the street now. It’s 2014 and there’s a biracial president, but it’s like, “You’re darker than so and so. Stay out of the sun because you’ll get dark and nobody’ll wanna deal with you.” I totally get it when a 35 year old black woman asks, “Why are they so black?” It’s because the pervasive thoroughness of the lie of racism is totally wound in all of our systems.
DLM: Are there other questions that surprise you?
VG: Is the artist angry?
DLM: To me they seem more like artifacts rather than conveyors of anger, but some of the pieces do confront the viewer in a really bold way. Similar to traditional spiritual dolls, your power figures have an essence like there’s some kind of spirit in them. This is getting back to some of the things you talked about earlier. Do you think of yourself as performing some of the functions that we would associate with a medicine woman, and do you think that that is different from our role as an artist?
VG: I think language is coming to play in your question. I stopped calling myself an artist years ago when I visited somebody’s MFA crit class at Carnegie Mellon and I didn’t understand what they were talking about when they were describing their work, and when they were discussing each other’s work. I was like, clearly, I am not an artist. What I started to do was say that I make things and leave it at that. I think that there’s a spirit in my work, I feel like there’s a spirit I come in contact with, you know, all the time. I feel like I’m not just a being of brain and body. I believe that part of my being-ness is intangible and unknown. When I am working in my studio I allow myself to not be afraid of the unknown, to not be afraid to work inside of something that I feel. One of the things that was so confusing to me when I visited the crit class was that nobody talked about what they felt. They were like, “Why are you talking about what you feel? That’s not how this is done.” When I’m working in my studio, when I say that I open up the doors of my soul and use the hands and eyes of my soul, that’s partially about trust and partially about not denigrating the things that happen inside of my studio that I don’t have the language for. I don’t have to know everything. I work in the space between knowing and not knowing.
DLM: I don’t know how long ago it was that you visited that crit at CMU, but thankfully in the academic art world the pendulum has swung a little bit and people are starting to embrace things that are not purely logical or theory-driven.
VG: Well, you would hope so because there are a lot of things that are not purely logical.
DLM: What interested you in this exhibition? What made you want to be in it.
VG: Well, since you first talked to me about it two years ago after my emerging artist of the year exhibition at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, there has been an evolution. And I think one of the things that interested me about it is just you as a human being having this idea and sticking with your idea, but also you’ve allowed it to grow. It shows that your curatorial process is open, like how we make art. Also, I’ve enjoyed seeing how the language has evolved for the exhibition. But also, I remind you, I stopped calling myself an artist and I was saying that I’m a maker. I sit in my basement, I collect stuff, and I make stuff. To be included in exhibitions that happen in academic spaces is really interesting to me because I didn’t go to college; and so, I’m surprised to be a black artist who makes black figures, and to show them in an academic exhibition called Performing Blackness::Performing Whiteness. My mother died two weeks ago and she was really light skinned. I think about how she lived another reality of her own blackness, looking so white, looking like she could pass. Performing whiteness for some black people is just called passing. I think about how I haven’t gotten parts in movies or in theater because I wasn’t black enough, that I couldn’t perform blackness well enough, and that how sometimes performing whiteness as a black person is a matter of survival. But I’m also curious how other people will talk about my work in relationship to these ideas and to the curatorial statement, because I don’t think about my work like that at all, ever.
DLM: It ends up being, to a certain extent, the curator who ends up framing or reframing the work under this umbrella and then juxtaposing it with other work.
VG: That’s really a curious thing to me. I think there is a spark that makes you want to follow a road, so in following it and in staying true to it, and allowing the statement and the vision to evolve, you only do more justice to the work that you are including and that you are talking about. Having curators who can think and write and be inspired and feel, that’s important.
DLM: Thank you for sticking with me through this process. A lot of the performance work you do, and the visual work too, focuses on community, empowerment, passion. Some of it’s very personal, and then there’s the work that you do with the Art House in Homewood. Can you talk a little bit about the Art House in closing, and talk about what you hope your work generally inspires in people. And what you take from it, what does it inspire in you?
VG: Well, I don’t consider the Art House to be work, even though, technically, if you break down activities, it is work. I have to have the keys and then open up the house and make sure the refrigerator is stocked and that there are art supplies, but the reality for me is that as a working artist, as an artist working out of her home in that neighborhood, bringing in materials and having art shippers pull up on my block and load crates of sculptures, the reality is that I’m in an environment where this is rare.
DLM: Being a working artist makes you exotic in Homewood.
VG: But I think that as I’m exotic, I find a lot of the people around me are exotic in their own ways, too. What I often recognize is the vein of inspiration. In the process of making and living in my community, I’m inhabiting a cycle, living inside of a spiral where there’s a spark, where there are deep moments of contemplation, where there are moments of engineering, where there are times of drawing energy from my environment, and then there times of infusing that spark back into the people who sustain me.