FRESH TALK: Carrie Mae Weems—Can an artist inspire social change?

good evening good evening good evening how is everyone good I'm Laurie mortis I'm the director of public programs and I'm thrilled that you're here with us tonight we are here for our second program in our inaugural season of the women arts and social change public program initiative and thank you Dan for reminding me in putting that slide on our tight faces fell off though we'll fix that later so this is our second program the first program happened a couple of weeks ago and we had another beautiful audience and a lovely evening but what's really exciting is how the conversation that we've started in this room continued downstairs in our Sunday supper at our communal dinner and continued again on social media Facebook Twitter we had a Twitter chat with some of our speakers and it's still going on new relationships are built holly's one of our fantastic digital ambassadors out there in DC it's really exciting to see and that's really what we're here about and so this is women arts and social change is this new public program initiative that was really designed to take on the three core principles of this museum the museum was founded on these principles which are arts women and social action and the idea is to create programs that can and will begin to make a difference this program explicitly champions women through the Arts this program places the arts within a larger context of women's creativity and innovation its situation arts and artists within a variety of disciplines businesses and peer groups whose processes experimentation and risk-taking are like their own artistic practice and these conversations and convenings are made even more meaningful by our location here in Washington DC why the world's mess why because when we bring to light the connections between artists and designers with these other disciplines such you know as diverse as technology the environment architecture social policy social justice issues gender issues the work of these women in these creatives will be recognized as necessary rather than niceties mainstream versus marginal fresh talk the program you're here for today is the signature program of this initiative it brings together the potential of art and social activism to a wider audience also those of you watching us livestream at home and inspires a meaningful dialogue on ideas that can make a difference as we said the first program really addressed what we called the elephant in the room talking about gender equality in the art world and today we're coming back to another one of our first beginnings which Susan Fischer sterling our director will talk about when she introduces Carrie one of the very first exhibitions here in this museum the program does not end here it begins here we have Sunday supper which is a communal dinner served family-style and that is the place we really want you to reach out to your neighbors and talk to each other about the things you heard the ideas that were sparked and anything that comes to mind in terms of what can we do one of the things that we do with this program is really pose the question can we change it every single one of the fresh talk programs poses a question and the ideas for not just our speakers but you the audience to really talk about strategies for change addressing these various issues that we bring up over the course of our ongoing program we have some wonderful folks here today who are true visionaries and I'm gonna have you all stand up very quickly who are here in the room with your names on the wall our donors when this was just a nascent seed of an idea these visionary leaders donors helped to support this program so Denise I see you there Mary Lou please stand up just for a moment so we can give you a round of applause anyone else who's here Amy from RBC the umbrella of this program also includes programs that we do on an ongoing basis and so we're really thrilled because we're merging two of these aspects tonight we do cultural capital sessions which are the types of programs that are under the umbrella of women arts and social change like working with the environmental film festival but also the march on Washington Film Festival or the women's voices theatre festival which we were one of the kick-off venues and a venue for new plays by women and so that's another aspect of the program and we're really thrilled that Robert Raven can be here with us as one of our ongoing partners but to bring this conversation into context with his work here in Washington DC I'm going to turn things over in a moment to Amy Sturdivant one of our visionary leadership donors the presenting sponsor of this fresh talk with Carrie Mae Weems but before you do that I want to remind you all to turn off your silence your phones don't turn them off though because we want you to go tweet anything that sparks your imagination put it out there in the world and these are your various conduits by which you can do that and so for now I'm going to go ahead and turn things over to Amy Sturdivant thank you all thanks Lori and hello everybody thanks for being here today as you can see on the screen and as Lori said my name is Amy Sturdivant I'm the branch director of RBC Wealth Management here in Washington DC and we are so excited to be partnering tonight with the National Museum of women in the arts for this fresh talk program featuring Carrie Mae Weems who I had a brief moment to meet her a little bit while ago and you all are in for a real treat she's great by supporting programs like this that celebrate the achievements of women and excellence in the arts RBC hopes to help foster communication dialogue and a greater appreciation for the role arts play in shaping our world through our partnership with the women's museum we have the unique opportunity to share our support of women in the arts with our clients friends and community members at RBC diversity is at the core of everything we do our commitment to diversity for growth and innovation is all about people because our success is built on forming solid relationships as a corporate steward RBC is committed to helping advanced women not only in our business but in the community which is why we are so extremely proud to be a sponsor tonight carries art and activism are an inspiration for all of us RBC Wealth Management is very committed to the communities where we do business our stewardship commitment extends beyond helping clients manage their wealth to something that we like to call the second golden rule that is leaving the world a better place than we found it this deep sense of duty to our clients communities employees and the environment is part of a larger corporate value system that drives our that drives every decision we make and guides every action we take we believe that the arts are a essential part of a vital well-rounded community and that it is part of our corporate responsibility to encourage reflection and debate in our communities on behalf of everyone at RBC I'd like to give a final thank you to all of you for coming tonight and I hope you enjoy the evening and thanks for the opportunity for us today thanks I like my slide hi I'm Susan Stirling miss Weems is what she has always been a superb image maker and a moral folk force focused and irrepressible those are the words of Holland Cotter in the New York Times when Kerry had her recent retrospective at the Guggenheim I had the privilege to work with Kerry on one of her earliest exhibitions which was here at the National Museum of women in the arts I experienced that moral force and that irrepressible energy for change even then in fact she changed my life she's one of the people that made it real for me to work here all these years 25 years later and she really is the inspiration for this project which is why I asked her to come to talk about cannon artists inspire social change she's our keynote address she will give our keynote address today and I think what's incredibly important is that from whether it's her early work like family pictures and stories where she created a different narrative for black families that very different from the Moynihan report all the way up to the work that she's doing today which she'll talk about including her work in Syracuse New York you see a thread of vision that very very few artists can attain but a standard that should be set for not only artists but for us all in terms of how we operate in the world I want to give Carrie the stage right away so that she can thrill you with what she's thinking about and working on but I also want to challenge you when you talk at the Sunday supper not to go away without having a new idea in your head and a passion in your heart to do great things in the world Carrie is my remote hello hello thank you everyone so much for coming Susan Stirling Susan gave me my first major exhibition and I'm surprised to hear that I changed your life I know that you changed mine and I thank you for that for the opportunity to work with you to learn some things about the work through you to learn about you to learn about this museum to the other donors thank you because I think of course there is only one National Women's Museum and that's this one it's sort of impressive and it's extraordinarily important and vital and significant you know there are really only a few women in the history of art who have sold were on auction for over a million dollars in fact there are only seven early seven out of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of transactions that happen on a daily basis so that there's a real space in a real place for what women in the arts is doing that it's really vital that it is a part of a dynamic and ongoing conversation and so hopefully we'll to be able to talk a little bit more about that thank you so much for inviting me a second to Venus is that unit slipped in out there I think I see a great artist Orion in that in the audience Eunice Lipton who has made a significant contribution to the way in which we understand women and their role not only as artists but their role as models in the world of fine art which is very important to her work alias Olympia is an extraordinary book that I've read many times over and over again and for those of you who don't it may be you might want to check it out I'm influenced by many people and a part of the thing that I'm really most interested in is the way in which I'm influenced by other writers by the musicians by other artists and I'm not sure this is maybe it's going this way but my pointer doesn't seem to be actually working maybe I just need to press it in the center that's the same slide okay already you know I I you know there are many people that have been important to me in my in my work and in my life Toni Morrison literature Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon I read on my knees I mean I would i would read passages and I was so completely moved by what I had read that the only thing I could do was walk around in circles and drop down on my knees since they thank you thank you and read that passage over again to myself and then there are people like you know Laura móvil who before we go any further how does this remote work because because because we have to be have lots lots to do okay what has to be point it's that right does it have to be pointed at the screen okay so we'll give it a try all righty you know there are people like like Laura who again set me on a certain kind of course because of what she was Joey you know people like Tolstoy who I read in my in my room when I when I was a young girl I thought I thought I thought to myself when I realized actually that I actually wasn't in Russia the 18th 19th century that I wasn't like a horse that I wasn't the wind that I wasn't that hat on Anna's head right or the Spurs on broadsky's booth when I realized that it was actually sitting in my room in Newhall California as the student in Cal arts but that's where I was and not in any those places are not any of those objects the only thing that I could do was to put the book down and applaud to myself for about five minutes in my room and I thought this is actually what art has the power to do that it really does actually have the power to transform your life reading Alice Walker's in search of our mother's gardens in relationship to why there have been no great women artists was absolutely important to me again struggling to find my way my path in this thing Alice talks about being a mother were an artist in our grandmother's time and she said that story must be cruel enough to curl the blood from people like Pina Bausch have taught me a great deal and so I pay attention to what what's going on and dance I was just with call Kyle Abraham yesterday who's a beautiful beautiful group emotion has been doing really important work I listen a lot to music I live in a world of sounds music has saved my life it has been the thing that has angered my being and every in every considerable way and I love listening to certain renditions by at many different artists at a time so that on the one hand I might spend a lot of time listening to Nina Simone's my way which I get up and I danced her in my studio often and then I listened to to Frank Sinatra's version of my way or Glen Campbell's version of my way you know that I am open to the possibilities of listening of listening and learning what this possibility is and then there been extraordinary artists photographers like the great roy decarava you know Diane Arbus camron you know robert frank gehry Winograd Todd Peppa George you know a really great group of artists you have really taught me a great deal about the process of looking in the process of working de carava of course was was very very important to me because of his sort of really beautiful understanding of dark light the way in which there was an aesthetic value that one could actually use in the building and the making of photography well the sort of really beautiful first flows slow fade bye bye bye Duchamp who I think about often your shop is somebody that I'm always considering in the work or somebody like Martin furrier and that's sort of wonderful way in which she built sort of Jacob's Ladder or this really beautiful way in which Felix gonzalez-torres insisted that he wanted his audience also to know something about what it meant to pass through life in the sort of amazing way as he was battling AIDS that this sort of gracious way of moving through those beams and those crystals right forcing the audience to move back and forth across this amazing landscape of possibility as he was you know descending deeper and deeper and deeper into his own death his own demise one of the most beautiful beautiful and elegant ways I think that any artist has really really spoken I think deeply about aids or they're really wonderful annamund viata you know who also died much too so who tiptoed on eggshells and who used her body over and over and over and over and over again so that we could understand something important about the relationship of the body to make sure the body to the ground the body to itself and to the practice of art that you have to use the scan that you have to use this body in order to make a difference somebody like Adrian Piper who decided that she would use her body painted occasionally black and then walk down the streets of Cambridge in Boston brushing up against people turning them and so this remote is really out of control maybe you guys don't get this together this is really annoying right you work really hard on elections later this year you know this work by Doris's salaries Salcedo who just finished her major retrospective at the Guggenheim has been sort of amazing really incredible and we were just talking Liana and I were just talking about this idea of the cracks right that you know a part of the you know the reason that I'm here the part of the reason that we're having this discussion about certain social change is because now all of the cracks many of the cracks for the first time in a major and significant way have suddenly been revealed right the cracks are there and we know that in one way or another that we have to take a stand in relationship to where all those cracks are right that we see them and that there is absolutely no place else to hide that these cracks have to be looked at that they have to be negotiated that they have to be understood right but all around us all around us are all of these extraordinary cracks and we know now in the late you know early beginning of the 20th century that there is no place really else for us to go than to figure out inventive and ingenious ways to deal with and to attempt to solve some of the most difficult problems that are facing us we are I think in an amazing and extraordinary time these ideas about influence I think have been important in the way in which artists have really sort of negotiated these influences are us are really important the way in which women artists are women artists in particular are negotiating these influences I think are really telling somebody like Lorna Simpson and so I have to keep going I just want to know how it works and I don't know why that's a problem this is like like so rudimentary I think at this point if you just want to ask for next I'll advance it so why don't I do this I'll just do this okay that sounds great doing it yeah it's just like really not appropriate okay so so okay so these ideas about influence the way in which let's can we go back just a couple of slides and one more okay so so you know I think about this sort of this sort of essay there's a there's a really beautiful book actually it's called essay on influence it was written by Todd pepper George and he does it in relationship to for those of you who are photographers Walker Evans on the one with the one hand and Robert Frank on the other really really beautiful book about them about this notion of influence and how influence actually works but of course all of us as artists we are always influenced by other artists around us none of us are existing on our own Island like we are all in context and in relationship to somebody else so that you have this sort of way in which somebody like Lorna Simpson interpolates and looks at somebody like to shop in order to build her her relationship with modernism and with post-modernism or you have you know this of course very very famous painting and then you have somebody like mickalene Thomas local shading her space with modernism and bending it being very inventive creating whole new ways and metaphors for doing what she does of course a really important painting by Kobe air and then of course I thought oh oh you know I go to see this painting this worked by de Xiang often at the Museum of Modern Art but I never thought about in relationship to go there for a long time of course this is one of the first times that the the the catalog that Susan put together for the project here at the National Women's Museum the show toured for about five years I've worked on many different kinds of projects coming out of the sort of notion of influence and I've been influenced by any number of artists that I'm always thinking about I work with lots of different artists I collaborate poorly but I do collaborate you know the Hampton project which we'll come back to I think maybe a little later on and probably in some sort of way and some sort of way you know on the one hand there's a sort of idea about influence oh the importance of influence in the role of influence and then of course there's something really important about the discovery of your own voice you know what that is in relationship to influence but also standing outside of influence and so when I was I don't know 30 years old and I had done my stuff fright I'd gone to graduate school I loved where at school so much that I went twice you know once for photography and then once for folklore because I love love folklore you know and then you know so I was I was I was you know living in this little town and teaching and I was working with a lot of young people students Laura Mulvey had just come out with this sort of seminal text so this idea about the ways in which women have been objectified etc etc it's a really important work you know and I was sort of like in the middle of that I was sort of thinking about the way in which all of my young students have been photographing themselves the women in particular the women photographed themselves in a fundamentally different way than men do that women are always and certainly you know in that in the 80s and the 90s you know that they were always sort of they're always sort of slightly hidden right you know whether it's through hair with your clothing or through some way in which they are hidden men were always squaring themselves towards the camera right the sort of very rough lavatory way women were always slightly veiled the idea the historical idea I think of the veil has been interesting and so in the sort of process of working with my students having to really sort of think about and thinking about these sort of critical text understanding of the way in which of course historically black women had been dealt with was really not in the same way or the same vein at all and that that there was something that not only that I was interested in doing something that I was interested in making something that I had to know for me as an artist and as a woman but also that I was engaged in the sort of you know important in critical practice at the same time right and that I wanted to sort of you know build a kind of light a very simple light of illumination where certain kinds of emotions and ideas and situations were being constantly revealed right you know that there is this relationship that we have woodwork that there's a relationship that we have with family that there's a relationship that we have with our girlfriends there's a relationship that we have with men right there's a relationship that we have with our children constantly sort of exploring these kinds of ideas and using this sort of varies singular light you know which became sort of a metaphor from my old life sort of the sort of spotlight rom the situation was really sort of a really important way for me to work and for me to understand it for me too in fact sort of discover you know my own specificity in my own voice within the relationship of contemporary photography and so I I could remember I can remember being absolutely pain right it was like you know a very very painful time you know what being an artist is a very difficult thing to do right because you are constantly living emotionally you know that you can feel it in your chest you can feel it in your groin you can feel it in your stomach you can feel it in your head I mean you know like you know I know that waking up to me my husband finds something somewhat difficult it's not all that easy waking up to my ass I do know that I do know that you know and so you know it's so it's so I'm you know I'm desperately trying to locate the center of myself a center of my voice the center of my being and what that was and every morning when I would get up out of bed because I worked very hard I never go to my studio and I would get up and I would cry all the way to my studio and I would cry all the way to class and then I would work with my students and at the end of the day I get back in my car and I would drive home and I would cry all the way home back upstairs into my room into my desk to my computer and this went on for a very long time in the middle of that I was listening to music absolutely it saved my life that sustained me and at the same time I was really I was really trying to figure out what this what this Center was but this core was that was going to move me through the rest of my life and one morning I got up my best friend called me my best friend called me and I answered the phone and I answered the phone with a voice that I had never heard before and I remembered putting down the phone I the boy voice was so odd it was so strange that I put the phone down and I walked around my room you know and then I realized it it had come from me and not only had it come from me but it had come from my mother that I sound that I had my mother's voice and and I didn't cry for a very very very very very long time after that it was sort of like this incredible kind of revelation of coming to this moment of coming to this point of understanding that I had gone I had made a very very very very very very very big circle in order to come back in a way to to touch them to where I came from and that the voice of authenticity was a voice that was really anchored in my past that it wasn't floating out there somewhere that it was really a part of who I was as a person and a part of a history a part of a family a part of a culture a part of a tradition and so kitchen-table was this work that really came from this very deep place and was a really interesting project to work on and working with other artists around it has been really important one of the things that you know that I that I that I really came to understand about myself in some way in some way maybe sort of crystallized in some sort of ways that really you know I'm really a woman who is fundamentally interested in social justice I really don't care much about a lot of a lot of other things I'm really interested in social justice and all the permutations that exist around that thing how to negotiate that and from you know when and where you enter that platform is you know is one thing but that that is the core of my concern and that is the thing that sustains me day in and day out is I think probably one of the most important things that that I've come to understand about my own practice and about my own life my own life in the way but my practice sort of intersects with my life one of the things that becomes really important as an artist is you know that if you are really really focused if you're paying attention to what you do that the work actually tells you what it needs and it tells you what it needs to be and that in every was embedded within every single project is the beginning of the next project and so I was working with Robert Cole Scott Robert Cole Scott who represented the United States for the Venice Biennale asked me to make some photographs for him and I knew that he actually didn't want a head shot and so and so working with Robert Cole Scott really helped me to understand my relationship to painting this idea about influence standing on shaky ground I posed myself for a critical study but was no longer certain of the questions to be asked it was clear I was not minase type who I loved and Picasso who had a way with women only used me and too sharp never even considered me but it could have been worse imagine my fate had to Kooning God holding the piece by Robert Coles got seduced by one another yet bound by certain social conventions you framed me and I framed you but we were both framed by modernism and even though we knew better we continued that time-honored tradition of the artist in his model this idea of complicity is always something that's really interesting to me how are you complicit how do you play in your own victimization there's some really interesting things being in this woman's Museum there's some very interesting things about the way in which women work how we work right you know so you know we might be laying out cheese when really you're right right you know because we're caretakers and so you know we're caretaking and we're trying to run the business we're trying to you know we're trying to do you know we're trying to wear all of these hats but at the end of the day you're right this this this really jeopardizes us it puts some strain and a honest it's really inappropriate that we haven't really learned yet how to really negotiate the space of shared of shared responsibility in the way in which we manage and govern our lives often when women wind up in corporate positions they wind up in corporate positions where they are taking care of the men that are the power brokers within those positions I mean this is very interesting and true stuff there was you know you know I I I've made many many different kinds of projects and you know today's talk is slightly different because we really wanted to focus a little bit more on this sort of issue of social change and so I'm not sort of talking about deeply a lot of the other kinds of projects that I typically work on I'm not going to show any videos or anything like that but I did want to sort of look at some of the key pieces that I've made over the years and certainly a kitchen table is one of those pieces and then there's a piece like from here I saw what happened and I cried these are all sort of very large pieces for the most part I worked with lots of images lots of text not always but sometimes with text with music with musicians in fact my great friend Craig Harris the amazing composer musician is here today because we're working on a new project together but I work with many different different in different modes from here I saw what happened and I cry was a project that was commissioned by the Jay paul Getty Museum and I was the first to actually one of the first living artists that they had ever worked with it was a very interesting and dynamic and troubled process but but but one that has been very very interesting and instructive in more ways than the line and I'm only going to show you just a few of these pieces these are from the add the C collection a body of work that is located at Harvard University it's where the original images come from you became a scientific profile and the grapes type an anthropological debate and a photographic subject it was one of those kind of pieces that sparked and raised any number of issues and questions and problems and resolves and there are a number of people actually been writing about it there were all kinds of things about copyright and appropriation or misappropriation etc that really went on around this work it was a very important work to do and I'm really glad I did it I've been living in the sort of world of color for a long time and figuring out how to negotiate these sort of questions of color is something that it's been ongoing and maybe one day the slide even might advance you know said that you know sort of palette you know I started with you know like the colored people series and then suddenly you know I started thinking about you know African jewels and gems and you know the colored people grid in the sort of ways of playing with color where color actually becomes really a world to play that it's not simply based on sort of this notion of the black and the white but you know color is much more dynamic it's much more dynamic it's much more playful it's much more fraught you know than anything that you can really sort of wrap your little mind around but it's never black and white right there's always something really gray which is why we are having such a difficult time really negotiating the black and white in the United States because we choose to think of it in binary terms from Africa jewels and gems you know whether the color becomes you know there's this really beautiful saying that you that there within within seriousness there's very little room for play but within play there is tremendous room for seriousness and so I actually come back to that idea over and over and over and over again that there is this sort of very important way in which one has to play inside of the work in order to bring out and to bring forward can we advance the slide please there's a way is a sort of you know and and in the way in which these ideas about color a sort of morphing over and through and under a number of bodies of work going back thirty years right that I come back to the sort of certain ideas again and again to sort of explore for myself the range of possibility and ideas it's relate sort of notions of color from the africa serie is an installation at the Museum of Modern Art at a certain point again my work began to tell me a great deal about what I was interested in and I begin to understand miraculously that I was really fascinated with architecture I did not know how much I loved architecture my work actually told me that I was in love with architecture and the theaters are sort of really wonderful ways and with archer architecture really sort of you know impresses itself upon us that there is something really important about the role of architecture in the way in which we understand male and female relationships right this sort of way in which there is a feminine space and if there is male space and of course we are always negotiating those spaces constantly all day long what is mellow space and what is female space right and so when I was invited to go to Italy to do the Rome prize and you know in the mid-2000s I knew that of course I really wanted to do something that was really important around the notion of the architecture right you know had done work very important work in Africa around architecture I'd done very important work in the sea islands around architecture and now I was in Europe doing this piece called roaming where I got up every single day and really looked at the architecture of a place and how the body is to feel in relationship to the architecture how the female body the male body is made to feel in relationship to the architecture the worker in relationship to the state in relationship to the architecture gets played out sort of brilliantly in a place like Rome one of the oldest cities of course you know in the Western world no right in that place where power money is invented and how the individual is made to think of themselves in relationship to the state in the control of the state was absolutely essential and I thought that it would be really important to sort of experience that very deeply and so I made hundreds and hundreds of photographs over the course of a year beyond besides working in cinecittà and the famous studio where Fellini made his movies it was really great I made a piece there called Italian Dreams you know this is a San Lorenzo one of the only spaces in Rome that was actually bombed during the war and then of course trying to understand such something not only about ancient Rome the power of ancient Rome but also the architecture a fascist Rome of Mussolini is wrong and it's sort of relationship to to you know to Nazi Germany right the sort of new way in which architecture was making itself felt in relationship to the state and in relationship to the individual and the worker in relationship to the state I mean these are really really important ideas and it's really sort of you know sort of interesting that very few people have really written about my work in terms of that but it's really really very much at the core of it and then using this frame going back to the way in which sort of somebody like you know Anna Mandy ADA sort of uses her body to sort of stand before these spaces to present herself in the space in the earth in the ground to mark it and then just as I was sort of finishing up which is again which is what I was saying you know once if you can get out of the way the work will tell you what it is and what it needs and just as I was finishing up on May Day you know 2016 finishing up the wrong the Cirie's I found myself in front of the National Museum of Rome you know and so into this you know sent me you know like you know into a whole other you know space of thinking about the role of the individual in relationship to of course the role of museums in the contemporary world of museums every museum in the country is asking itself where is my place now contemporarily it will not be what it was in 1960 or 1970 or 1980 it is in a new space that demands a whole other new articulation of possibility right if it wants to remain vital and vibrant at a time when we are undergoing sort of profound shift in change and so you know IIIi found myself in from this museum I understood immediately what I needed to do and so I dashed home I threw some clothes in a bag you know a couple of pair of panties you know and my black dress and a you know and a toothbrush and I jumped on a plane and I just went throughout Europe making as many photographs as I possibly could in some of the most important cities that I could get to for my remaining a time and then of course I came to the United States and began photographing museums here in the United States as well and so this is an ongoing project that I continue to work at and to look at and of course this is from the Lincoln Memorial which is one of my most favorite monuments here in in DC and I've been doing some work now looking at these sort of monuments the Supreme Lord the Synod and so forth for the organization that I've been working with faith and as I was sort of thinking about that piece of standing before the memorial of course I only could think of Marion and being able to sort of echo her and so I actually called the piece the echoes of Marion because because I wanted to remember her in relationship to slow fade to black and what we don't hear what we don't hear and the ways in which we might not hear with old devices other kinds of projects with with with kids you know one of the things that did you know and working on something like constructing history again these are large pieces that consist of many many photographs but you know working with something like constructing history I realized at a certain point which is sort of amazing but one of the reasons again that we are at this sort of incredible apex the sort of brilliant moment and disruptive moment and crazy moment in American American politics and policy has to do with all the assassinations that took place in the country right right that there are all of these assassinations it took place in this country that made it possible for us to actually begin to have these kinds of conversations and so now 50 years later we are now saying that yes I think I think we're ready to sit down and maybe deal and so there was the assassination of Martin in the assassination of the Kennedys and the assassination of Malcolm when when John Kennedy was was was was assassinated Robert Kennedy called approver and said did you have anything to do with this I told you something about where we were as a country and what he understood was possible in a nation divided so I looked at all of those things in a piece like constructing history trying to understand in how Obama and Hillary Clinton then found themselves for the first time in 2008 facing one another it was an amazing change an amazing shift in this country that a black man and a woman could be facing one another and we knew that one of them was going to win I mean this is a significant right now these other kinds of projects that I've been been involved in and I'm gonna try to move through some of this very very quickly because I know that we have a conversation that we're going to have in a few minutes is this other kind of work that I do so on the one hand I spend like a lot of time making the art that I want to make and I I really do work every day I shouldn't but I do and so some of the kinds of projects that I that I've done you know are like this project in Beacon New York where I set up a record shop on the Main Street it was called the beacon project and I allowed that the piece was to begin to understand the sort of shifting community a shifting community at a very critical moment when the DIA foundation was moving into beacon New York and really radically changing what was going on in that community so that you know several years before dia moved in you could buy a house for twenty thousand dollars after dia moved in your house was two hundred thousand dollars right I mean it really should have changed the nature of the of the city and so it was very important to me to begin to sort of collect the materials of the stories that were going on amongst those people who had been living there for a very long time in those people that were moving there for the first time this sort of shift of estate taking place and to be able to sort of a hold that to record all of that and then to make this sort of really beautiful packet and to give it to the Historical Society so the Historical Society itself would have a record of this sort of fundamental change that was taking place made by an artist and then I invited the next artists that come and they would do that project for three years like you can't do like in a year everything takes like a really long time right you know it's like you got to put your feet down you got to you know put the money up and you got it like really really work hard and then maybe you get something done so I started social studies social studies is my little organization and under social studies I do all of these various kinds of projects like this project working with Walter hood for the University of Massachusetts where you know I developed the hope peony for w eb de bois I thought that well you boys should be hope should be simply planted in your garden just plant it in your garden if you don't have it in your heart plan right and so you know so I developed the hope peony for the voice and the idea was that it would become the cornerstone for a garden that would happen at the University of Massachusetts but this peony is available and I would really be so honored of most of you who are interested in gardening would go out and buy this peony and plant hope in your very own garden it was really actually a really wonderful wonderful way of thinking about social change sort of these sort of gestures and markers towards change that's very very simple and very elegant very unmitigated in easy way and then there been times what I've been sort of you know a little bit more disruptive and I took on a persona for a long time of where I sold hopes and dreams and a bottle in various neighborhoods through a series of performance gestures very interested in sort of these sort of ideas of kind of developing my little German Faust and so now I'm gonna go very quickly through this material I have an organization in Syracuse it's called the Institute of sound and style and the Institute of sound and style was developed for very troubled teenagers in my neighborhood Syracuse is one of the poorest communities in the country for blacks and Latinos in fact we are the poorest in the country and so understanding that I was living in this sort of really sort of violet isle neighborhood a lot of things were going on I was teaching classes actually on art in social change when a young child in my neighborhood was killed he was two years old and he was caught up in gangland violence his father actually there's two days ago went to jail for another slaying someplace else the sort of predatory violence that was happening in the neighborhood in the community right and so there was this sort of outcry I was upset everybody I knew it was upset I'm thinking about how do I sort of negotiate this how do I deal with this as an artist a sort of crises that's going on in my community what are the tools that I can bring forth that might actually make a difference the first thing that I decided that I was going to do was to develop a series of I developed a campaign it was called project activate Oprah came to the neighborhood it was very troubling it was a very trying time very very very complex this is our emblem for the institute of sound and style we invited teenagers and one of the important things that we did that I knew would be very very important given that I was living in this really poor community was that the kids not only needed to be trained they needed to be they needed to be paid right they needed to have this really kind of a vocational job until we brought in a lot of these kids we introduced them to art to photography to music to recording to graphic arts and graphic design etc etc etc and I simply figure it out for the first year you know it's like I sold like a body of work and I thought well this is very cool I think I'm gonna use this body of work in order to pay my kids and I'll use the next body of work that I sell to pay like the staff that's working with my kids right just sort of find a group of people that were really wonderful that could work along with us to figure out sort of ingenious ways in order to partner with people that were around me other record record studios that were in the neighborhood producers that were in the neighborhood teachers that were in the neighborhood just figuring out I mean a lot of this takes a lot of work I mean you know I go to bed I think about it I get up in the morning and I'm thinking about it how do I really sort of affect change in this given neighborhood and how do I pay these kids in a systematic way and how do I train them in a systematic way how do I help them sort of realize their own potential that they have to understand that they have so I invited in and other people wonderful writers and poets to work with my kids you know these kids and you mean kids like leader like I am I'm interested in sex for the most part right you know I'm interested in sex and clothes so I sort of figured that you know that you know that if I could sort of introduce kids to the thing that they're most interested in right that that was a way then a sort of cutting through some of the nonsense and wonderful wonderful kids one of the things that you know we're very important about this project you know I really don't like kids all that much you know but one way or another I have to figure out you know how to deal with them you guys like because because I care about them but I don't like them you know and so you know so trying to figure out the sort of ways of working with them and one of the things that they sort of taught me very much about myself was that essentially you simply don't give up on them because all day long these kids are being they're being they're being shunned by whole a system that simply doesn't know how to deal with them and so they're constantly testing you in your own sense of loyalty in relationship to them the first thing that I did when this violence took place in the neighborhood was to make a series of lawn signs people came out of their neighborhoods out of their homes and assisted me in putting up these signs and a man doesn't become a man by killing another man all right you know making bill boy it's making lawn signs Ewing matchbook covers right beware of the ultimate cost of violence that it may mean your life and taking them to bodegas and bars and having them passed out by the by the thousands it was really kind of an amazing project and many of these signs some of these signs are still up my billboard project the world is watching you fail your family your community and yourselves stop the violence it was a very important to have this sort of conversation with the perpetrators of violence and I couldn't pretend like you know yes I understand like all the you know that we are troubled but this is predatory and we need to really look at that right and so I've sort of developed like a whole series of conversations that went on and back and forth between myself but the perpetrators and the community itself and figure the sort of ingenious ways in order to make it work the kinds of signs that I use the kinds of billboards that I use so the electronic billboards that we use as opposed to paper billboards so that we could have a sustained narrative in a single place how do you use the newspaper in strategic ways where you put inserts within the newspaper right we are responsible for the life of our own community a call to arms for the community reclaiming our community is a necessity stop the violence right we are responsible again for our own community and for the life of our community stop the violence that was important to speak up and to step up and to speak out that we couldn't play this this sort of double standard game right you couldn't sort of not want the police when you need it the police and and want the police when you didn't want the police right I mean that you had to have a sort of concerted way in which you were negotiating you know these ideas and of course the idea that one needed to remember to dream and then building a safe zone and sending out thousands of Flyers through my local newspaper on the one side it's had a surf zone and on the other side there were useful contacts information that would be useful to you I mean these were like really you know simple but they were really really important strategies and many of them are still up in windows creating a safe place a safe zone the kids knew that they could go into that space what's important you know put this in your window put this up as a sign and this has also been now something that people are using in Harlem as well now I'm going to finish up by just sort of talking very very very very briefly about several other really important artists that are doing sort of amazing things for those of you who don't know and this is very interesting too now I know a lot of women who are actually doing in some form or fashion some form or fashion work that is kind of similar to my own but we are sort of caretakers very a very particular kind of way in relationship to kids right we work all very very high we're you know very very dedicated and then they're the boys they're the guys who are out here and they're doing very interesting things as well there's Rick Lowe and his project row house project row houses started maybe 25 years ago Rick Lowe received a small grant or sold some work had worked as an architect and decided that he really wanted to do a whole project in Houston where he really focused the energy of this area he built out all of the houses within the 10th Ward and then he invited in a very controlled and select way a group of people to live in this community that had been repurposed and we designed and re developed by him an absolutely wonderful wonderful project also a really wonderful fine artist then there's somebody like Mark Bradford who has a really brilliant art and practice organization in Los Angeles one of the first of its kind right where he Chu has bought up a whole series you know through his his investment his mama used to do my hair his mama's studio used to be around the corner from from this place right you know so mark Bradford that's my place is just right next door this is Mark's new space it's been going now for several years working with Eileen Norton they too are training young people in their community doing vocational training working with psychologists psychoanalysts even and urban planners in order to develop this incredible incredible location absolutely beautiful this area actually was developed by the Olmstead brothers the sons of the famous Central Park guy so but so it's been very interesting to watch these sort of major artists you know all of them african-american for the Pope most part who are now doing these kinds of significant projects in their communities and in their neighborhoods buying up entire blocks of houses repurposing them redeveloping them and thinking about really smart and innovative ways in order to actually really have a major impact in the neighborhoods in which they are located and the last person is relief the Astor Gates who I think is doing sort of extraordinary work around the country who's developed a whole series of structures in Dorchester and my southside of Chicago amazing amazing project you know and so these ideas these sort of ideas of innovation that our artists are involved in in sort of relationship of social change that I work with mark Bradford that I worked with Rick Lowe that I work with the Astra gates all of us working together in order to sort of think about sort of creative ways in which we bring our understanding our unique vision to the passion that the passion and the practice of art as the agency for for change thank you

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. I loved that! There truly were so many topics that I just found astounding. She caught my attention when speaking about cracks and later talking about community. Also sharing stories of rebuilding, etc. It all really was just beautiful beyond words! Thank you for being a part of what puts those cracks back together. I actually just took a few photos showing cracks in the road, while on a walk. She explained exactly what I saw. We must think alike. You amaze me!

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