“Being an Other in America, teaches you to imagine what can’t imagine you.
That’s your first education.” Margo Jefferson from her memoir, “Negroland”
My work is a reflection of who I am and where I am from. Western culture historically associates art with the desire for both power and influence. Growing up with neither power nor influence, conflict and contrast became a major part of the viewing and the making of art for me. I have always grappled with the question of what art should be and whom it is for.
Black Americans live in a different world, or maybe we live in the same world differently, is a more accurate description. I think of being an artist and the work I do as a way of inserting myself into places where I do not belong, where historically I’ve been told I have no place. My work is a response to visual and pictorial tropes, to the significance given to certain kinds of images over others and to what images from all sources represent in our culture. Figuratively and metaphorically, I’m interested in disturbing the reading of genres of art. I’m interested in conclusions that trespass upon customary and generally accepted interpretations of specific genres. I don’t think of my work as overly intellectual or especially political in nature. I’m interested in the physical and emotional consequences of my insertions. Sometime those insertions entail forceful, even violent displacement, but they can also be humorous or even tender at times.
Within the canons of Western art, portraiture, and in particular portrait painting, has been a vehicle of substantiation, substantiation of power and influence, of what could be for some and what could not be for others. The portrait is an interlocutor in the cultural dialogue concerning beauty, identity, representation and social status. One of the unfailing functions of a portrait painting is to validate and give permanence to both the world it describes and to the persons that inhabit that world. A portrait predictably fixes in the mind of the viewer the immortality of the profiles, ideals and attitudes it depicts. At the same time without ambiguity or uncertainty, a portrait marginalizes and suppresses any irregularities or competing traits.
Never seen as possessing the humanity, dignity, status and/or inner life commensurate with the objectives of portrait painting, throughout history, images of Black women, Black men and Black children have largely been invisible. Or, representation of Black people have been reduced to the uncomplicated characterization of a stranger in the world of the white man’s imagination. By inserting images from my world and my time, usually made in a conflicting manner, for seemingly contradictory purposes. My intention is craft alternative parables. I aim to represent the same world differently, by coercing these mismatched images to occupy shared spaces, both real and imaginary.
I mean to disrupt the reading of familiar narratives by shifting vernacular, by nudging the emphasis towards what could not be imagined, anticipated or expected. Like viewing a performance of a play you know well and have seen many times before, but now is being performed in another language or taking place in a different time period, or has been casted without regard to race or gender, I’m interested in the struggle that ensues between what has been lost and what has been discovered as a result of an adaptation. I make choices intuitively not always knowing exactly where the process will lead me or what the results might mean. I’m more interested in raising questions than finding answers and I am usually surprised by the clarity obtained in the contradiction.