With collage techniques, many moving parts can become one. Nowhere is this more clear than in the work of Swiss-born artist Kelly Dabbah. She has a lot going on and it is clear that this why collage has become her preferred method of art-making. “I am quite precise, which is why I like the possibilities of editing and flexibility that collage has to offer,” she remarked in our phone conversation.
Digital collage can be employed on many different materials. Most recently, she released a limited edition series of skate decks and bucket hats on NTWRK, both printed with her signature digital collage works. During Miami Art Week she is showing work from her “mirror” series of collage printed on mirrors, and a vintage chair upholstered in a collaged textile that celebrates the bling aesthetics of LA, aptly titled: “You Can Sit On It.”
During this past year, Dabbah spent a sojourn in LA where she was embraced by a group of musicians and producers – including ThunderCat, Anderson Paak, and Derek ‘Mixed by Ali’ who have all commissioned work from the artist. Elements from that LA lifestyle populate her mirrors and especially the textile of the vintage chair. Borrowed from cannabis culture, “pass with care” is a phrase that reoccurs in the artist’s work. Decriminalization and legalization add cause for celebration de-stigmatizing the subculture that has welcomed her since her teens in Geneva and throughout her time in New York and LA.
On view in Miami, “My Best Friend, My Worst Enemy” depicts snakes, flowers, palm trees, and the third eye – crying. “Like youth, flowers wilt,” says Dabbah about her incorporation of flowers which are included in much of her work. In “Cara Said ‘Bacon!’” a hand steadily holds a needle filled with Botox. The mirror series speaks to impossible beauty standards and the contradictions that make up femininity. The mirror series speaks to impossible beauty standards and the contradictions that make up femininity. Miami is a fitting place to showcase Dabbah’s work, because unlike Basel week in Switzerland, emerging artists can make a mark during Miami Art Week. The diverse audience of artists, athletes, musicians, celebrities, the it-crowd, and people looking for a good party are a collecting group attracted to artists who work across disciplines and whose work embodies a millennial and painterly cut and paste aesthetic that is steeped in lifestyle symbology.
The ease in which Dabbah works with brands and drops limited editions is a result of her training in Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design at the New School. She has painted on leather jackets for American designer Anna Sui for her Fall Season Fashion Week show, worked on a neon collaboration with Yellow Pop, a neon company, and last Halloween, she worked with the Italian notebook manufacturer Moleskine to customize notebooks for in-store shoppers, among others. “Working with an artist allows brands to connect more authentically with their consumers,” says Dabbah. Although she speaks a language that corporate clients understand the artist is not all business; she has the mind of an artist – boundless, experimental, slightly erratic, but deeply visionary. As art, fashion, design, and branding continue to merge we look forward to following Dabbah’s contribution to this growing space.
Don’t miss Kelly Dabbah’s showcase “Cara Said ‘Bacon!’” at Booth C07 at SCOPE Art Show during Miami Art Week 2021.
On view at York College Fine Arts Gallery through November 19, 2021
Content warning: This interview discusses femicide, violence against womxn/gender-based violence and rape.
The powerful exhibition “Flores de Femicidio: Femicide Florals” – a solo show and installation by artist Natali Bravo-Barbee curated by Dr. Margaret Rose Vendryes – will remain on view at York College Art Gallery through Nov 19. The exhibit honors the devastating toll that femicides have taken on Argentinian society, the loss of womxn murdered and the devastating impact that this violence has had. Bravo-Barbee’s powerful installation provides an avenue of contemplation to consider global movements against gender-based violence and the #niunamas movement.
According to statistics from the Observation Committee on Equality and Gender from the United Nations, in 2018 Argentina had the third-highest femicide rate reported in the Americas region. Bravo-Barbee took time to speak with ANTE editor-in-chief Audra Lambert on this exhibit, outlining how this project developed and the conversations that have emerged as a result of this meaningful installation.
(Interview edited for length and content; all images courtesy the artist and York College Fine Arts Gallery)
Audra Lambert, ANTE mag+platform: Thanks Natali for taking time to speak with us on your powerful project, Flores de Femicidio at York College Art Gallery. Can you tell us more on the genesis of this project?
Natali Bravo-Barbee: I have a friend who is a psychologist from Argentina, and I always read her posts as I appreciate her perspectives. She posted an article in early 2019 about the murder of a woman in Argentina, and the accompanying research showed how this one case fit into overall statistics (of women’s murders in Argentina.) I began to dig into this learning more about the scope of femicides in Argentina, and came to realize through my own research that Argentina doesn’t even have the highest rate (of femicides) in Latin America, so this is how I began my approach when I started this project in January of 2019.
ANTE: And how did this project emerge in partnership with York College Art Gallery?
NB-B: The show with York came about because I had been working on this ongoing project for so long. I continued working on it throughout the pandemic and it became closer to being done. I’d shown one month of flowers (January) in four locations, but no one had ever seen entire collection. Dr Vendryes reached out to me after I’d been posting about them and she mentioned that York has a summer residency program, working in the space and culminating in a show, but that due to Covid this residency was on hold and this show timeslot was open. She asked if I would be interested in showing the flowers there.
When I talked about the flowers before I finished them, I always said I want them to show together in Queens first – to bring all the pieces together in Queens, and from there I’m happy to show them anywhere, so this worked out great for Flores de Femicidio.
ANTE: And does the diversity of Queens’ residents contribute to this sentiment as well?
NB-B: Yes, and the number of Argentinian residents we have in Queens in particular, and the ability to open this conversation with students, some of whom deal with these topics at home such as domestic violence. Often universities and educational institutions don’t discuss these topics in depth. So showing at this university made this exhibition that much more special.
ANTE: So you mentioned to me previously that every flower takes up to 10 hours to complete – can you tell us more about this process?
NB-B: Every flower is different – there is no cookie cutter size. Every flower had to be cut out and hand drawn on the petals, and each had to have a number system since no two are identical. Each was numbered since they had to have individually labeled petals. I then had to sort these out, coat them and expose them, develop them, shape them, assemble them, create a tag for each woman who the flower is for – some of these flowers are embellished with crystals and glitter as well, requiring extra work.
Each flower has anywhere from 6-30 petals and there are varying designs of flowers, so in order to keep track of them, I had to come up with a numbering system to be able to sort them and build them. The building process for each individual flower required more cutting, shaping and gluing of the petals. Once the petals were done, the flower could be assembled. Each flower has a backing where the petals were glued onto, and they also have a wire hanger in the back so each flower could be hung. I built all the flowers first, and then assigned a name to each flower at the end. Each flower has a cyanotype name tag on it to represent each femicide victim.
There’s also a calendar aspect to this exhibition. The show also acts as a giant calendar, and there are cyanotype plaques in Spanish and English along the wall toward the floor outlining the months. These signs are not immediately visible, so as you walk around and begin encountering the flowers you start to realize gradual details: each individual month relates to these flowers, the women they are named for, and the use of Spanish reminds visitors that this is in relationship with Argentina, in dialogue with the scope of this project.
ANTE: I feel that sometimes specificity – in this case, showing the amount of femicides in Argentina over the course of a specific year (2019) – is able to reach a wider group of people because of the level of detail. It’s specific as opposed to being vague, demonstrating focus and intention.
NB-B: While documenting the show at York, I met a woman who worked with the Haitian embassy here in New York. She started a conversation with me about violence against women in Haiti. This is such an important topic, she noted, and she said she wanted to reflect on Haiti, the residents there and how women there experience violence often overlooked by the government.
ANTE: How did you research this project given the many barriers around finding out information on femicides in the Americas (lack of government diligence on this topic, etc.)?
NB-B: In the beginning of 2019 the number of femicides had started increasing so there was widespread coverage then, but throughout the year this coverage started to dwindle. There was less and less information over time. I saved everything I would read; I had a folder and would save everything and go back to the info I had found. There’s also feminist publication,Clarín, in Argentina that in the middle of 2020 published an enormous obituary of all femicide cases from 2019 to mid-2020 with victims’ names, ages and a brief sentence of how they were killed. The publication was digital and every rectangle published in this report represented a femicide victim. They stepped in to document when mass media had stopped widely reporting. In many cases, I was able to get to know each woman through their online presence, through their name and the online research I did to get to know them. Early on in my research, in newspapers, you would get first and last name, but over time it became first name and last initial, or even no name: just a documentation of the violence. there eventually would be no resources: no further info on who did this, etc. throughout this project over time there were many flowers that unfortunately have no names.
ANTE: Can you talk more about the process of cyantopying and the iconography of the flower as the focus of this project?
NB-B: Sure. One of the most popular things associated with cyanotyping is botanicals: flowers are popular, but I didn’t make them early on because it just didn’t call out to me as a subject matter unless it was in dialogue with something else. When I started with the concept of the project, I knew it had to do it with flowers because flowers for me have always symbolized death. From a young age, since my grandfather passed, I would always bring flowers to his grave with my family. It’s also a sign of honor: honoring someone’s life after their passing. I started off making regular flowers without cyanotype, in dialogue with a long tradition fo women making paper flowers. I wanted to play with the fine line between craft and Fine Art and explore how to bring craft into Fine Art, and throughout this process I realized no one has ever made a cyanotype flower sculpture. So then I thought: I’ll be the first one to make it.
I immediately went and made a prototype, not included in this show – it’s my artist proof. No name is attached to it. I realized: this is possible, I can make this. But I knew from the very beginning it was going to be labor intensive. So many other factors were things I didn’t know were coming in my life: new pregnancy, the pandemic. This project was hard but it is manageable, I thought and I’d spend my nights planning out petals, cutting them out. This process was so labor intensive, but I began to create a method around making these sculptures, and over time began to follow a rhythm and figure out how each flower would live as its own unique sculpture. Weekends, nights: all my free time was absorbed by this project, month after month.
So the process started with drawing out the petals from templates, and in these I numbered each petal with a code so I could keep track of the number of flowers I had drawn out. I had assistants help me cut out the petals. So I would drop off a batch that had been drawn out for cutting, and while those were getting cut out I would continue drawing out more until all were drawn and cut. Then I had to sort them out and put them in bags so I could separate them and prepare them for coating. My attic was set up as a darkroom where no sunlight came in and was safe for the petals to be coated in the cyanotype chemicals. Cyanotypes are exposed using UV light, so it was crucial that not outside light would enter the room. With a tarp on the floor, about 30 cyanotypes flowers could be coated at a time. Then once the emulsion was dry, I would bag them all up all again and bring them downstairs to prepare for exposures.
The exposure time depended on what I was using for a negative to make the photogram print. Dried flowers required a 15-30 minute exposure (depending on the flower) and lace required 30-40 minutes depending on the thickness of the flower or lace. The larger the flower size, the more exposures it took to expose all the petals for one flower. I should mention that I could expose between 10-15 petals on average, more if the flower was smaller, but some flowers were so large that it took 5 sessions to expose all the petals in just one flower. After exposing the petals had to be developed in a tray with water and then placed on blotter paper to dry, then sorted back into bags so they can be built. It truly was labor intensive, what you see when you enter Flores de Femicidio, and I’m happy to discuss the conceptual and formal aspects of this work with visitors.
ANTE: Throughout the course of this project, did you see anything in this process as transfomative given the research and time involved, and the stories of these women you were then transforming into beautiful objects?
NB-B: I would often just need to take time away after researching, I would have to take a break after reading about a murder of a child and that child’s mother – I would read this and just take a moment to go into the other room. I would think of my son asleep in the next room and just reflect on how unimaginable was this violence, this story. And then the story of the mother, of this woman and her life – I wanted to make these flowers to bring something beautiful to her name. I was resolved the last thing associated to this woman wouldn’t just be this violence, this tragedy. Here is going to be this beautiful object that I’ve made in this person’s honor. I think in terms of transformation also from 2D to 3D, thinking about this story that’s just a story that then becomes an object – something I just read that turns into something tangible: something that exists in real life – even beyond life.
I’ve heard people say, “Oh I thought this project was so beautiful until I realized what this show is about and now it’s just so sad.” But I think about beauty, and how women are expected to be beautiful. Our lives can be sad too; not everything about our lives is beautiful. There are more dimensions to who we are. There are people who don’t speak on domestic violence because it’s not pretty – they don’t know how people around them will react to this news.
ANTE: Also, horrifically, the only person who feels the effects of this violence are the women: the men aren’t shunned for this violence. Women hold the shame of these violent acts.
NB-B: As part of the show for the York College Art Gallery, I created a binder containing dried flower petals, negatives with name tag information, stories from these women – the murder information – translated from Spanish to English – and even have photos of the women included. With this binder you can go find the individual’s flower on the wall, read these notes and sketches and further engage with this project. I’ve also added a trigger warning to give people the choice to engage with these stories as that’s critical as well. It’s a heavy thing having to translate these stories, seeing these truths live in two languages, making these stories more tangible to a wider audience.
ANTE: When you’re talking about beauty I think of the beauty pageant system and of pageants as an institution in Louisiana where I’m from; is this something that is relevant to Argentinian society as well? That beauty is the expected dimension for women to inhabit socially?
NB-B: I definitely see this as being relevant to majority of women living in Argentina, who are meant to look pretty, who should have children but not look like they’ve had them- keep their beauty and make everything look easy. Then there are so many other underlying topics with colorism, socio-economic background, even religious faith. Something interesting to note about this topic is that the government uses the term femicide – the WHO has ‘violence against women’ with related numbers to the Argentinian count of ‘femicidios.’ Over time I noticed the numbers didn’t add up and it’s because in Argentina the governement didn’t count Trans women’s murders. Also if two women, such as a mother and daughter, were murdered in the same act, it was only counted as a single femicide.
ANTE: That certainly needs to change. Thinking about changes in society recently, I’m ruminating about the evolution of the #metoo movement. How do you see this topic being treated now, is there a resurgence of attention now? Was it just in that one moment from your research?
NB-B: That movement definitely impacted it – the hashtag in Spanish is #niunamenos meaning we don’t want one less woman. There was also #niunamas – I think in 2018/19 when you looked at the jump in femicide numbers that occurred, there were numbers that had risen and feminists in Argentina were fighting for femicides to be recognized and for the government to do something about it. The numbers continued to go up but in spite of that there was less media coverage over time. I don’t see that this is a topic that’s been fixed or that we can stop talking about it, it still continues. In conversation with femicides, honor killings come up often. In different parts of the world this phenomenon is called different things – but there’s no honor in killing a woman, this is not the right term. My days are filled of reading stories of femicides from all over the world, not just Argentina.
ANTE: I think of a recent encounter I had the memorial to the #niunamas monument in Mexico City, and cases abroad such as Noor Mukadam in Pakistan and Sarah Everard in the UK. There seems to be a hesitancy built in socially against upending the establishment. Are societies built on violence? I hope not, but we need to be willing to change, pursue and implement laws against femicides.
NB-B: Speaking to this, in Argentina there are laws against femicides but most of the time those who are responsible either aren’t caught or the police don’t pursue leads related to the femicides. If this continues then how are the aggressors being found? They’re not. They aren’t finding them and then nothing can be done. What’s the point to having a law then, if nothing is being done to enforce it? They’ll argue there’s not enough funding for these investigations. It’s ridiculous when you read the justifications for these investigations not happening. Looking to Gabby Petito’s case, it didn’t take too long to find her remains. Imagine if every femicide had that level of attention: everyone sharing leads, video captures, information and coming together to solve the case, imagine if that happened for every femicide. We’d see results. People would be more afraid. The perpetrator would start to think whoa, people are paying attention, I might get caught and maybe just wouldn’t do it.
ANTE: Yes, it’s very clear that not every case is treated the same. Trans women, Indigenous women – not every case of femicide is treated with the same amount of scrutiny. You can feel that there should be more to prevent violence against all of these women, there’s so much more than can be done. I think of this poem from the Second wave Feminist publication Heresies’ Issue #6: On Women and Violence by Elaine McCarthy that reflects on a woman reporting her rape, and the police essentially make fun of her, telling her that they need all of the details and insinuating that the case won’t be solved.
NB-B: Dr. Diana Russell was active in the 1970s as well – she passed on in 2020, but she popularized the term femicide although it has existed since the 1800s. If we labeled every single femicide that occured with that term then we’d notice it happening all around us all the time. They happen so often, they often go unpunished, and people don’t want to see it. It’s a truth that people don’t want to admit, as a society, we’ve decided no – it’s too ugly.
Artist Pamela Casper’s Earthscapes: Emerging to a Brighter World, on view now at Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit, NJ, honors the power that nature has to inspire, to awe, and to overwhelm. Casper is able to capture, ”a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower,” in the words of Romantic poet William Blake. In many ways Casper’s solo show, a mini-retrospective for the artist, brilliantly captures that wondrous sense of natural awe redolent of the Romantic movement, with a nuanced portrayal of natural phenomenon at turns imaginative and insightful. Casper’s works on view span mediums ranging from works on paper to mixed media and sculpture, offering visitors a varied means of engaging with the environment.
Works such as ”Roots and Insects,” ”Gothic Underground,” and ”Underground Glow” allow guests to burrow down into the impression the artist has created of roots expanding deep underground. Rich jewel tones and minuscule, detailed lines trace the most powerful and life-sustaining part of a tree: its root system. Casper’s paintings evoke what they don’t show, giving the impression of destiny with lush, painterly brushstrokes hinting at the rich ecosystem lying just out of view of the human eye.
In addition to the artist’s Tornado series (see cover photo) which brings to life the transformative power of nature and calls into question our tenuous relationship as stewards of the environment, the artist also works with reclaimed materials. ”Abandoned Nest” re-imagines barbed wire as a bird’s nest, painting a bleak future for a world in which scant natural materials are available for creatures to depend on. The sharp angles jutting across one another are juxtaposed with a bird’s feather: a reminder of what’s left for us to lose unless we begin reimagining ways to provide for a sustainable environmental future.
Pamela Casper’s ”Earthscapes: Emerging to a Brighter World” is on view at the Reeves-Reed Arboretum’s Wisner House in Summit, NJ, until October 31st, 2021. Check the Arboretum’s website for hours and special events before attending: https://www.reeves-reedarboretum.org/visit/ .
Interview with Show + Telephone’s Madeline Walker, Edited by Audra Lambert
Madeline Walker. Can you share with us – what about the theme of the open call caught your attention in relation to your practice as an artist?
Bianca Abdi-Boragi. Since I’ve been producing ephemeral works with earth, the title (“Earthly Delights”) caught my attention. My practice has been influenced by Land Art and Arte Povera, both. I’ve been making pieces with high grass, petals, feathers, lost bread in works like Traveling Plant, Epiphany, Drift, The Heel of the Loaf to formally engage with ideas of trajectory, subsistence and fulfillment. My art is also inspired a lot from my family’s history of migration from Algeria to France to flee the war and personal experiences, conveyed in a form that addresses a collective experience, addressing timeless questions such as war, displacement, freedom, gender roles. Being uprooted from a country or a culture is a major theme in my work. I want to grasp life with the beauty, fragility and nostalgia of ephemera.
MW. Conflict and disparity between classes is something you mention in your statement about The Heel of the Loaf which feels especially poignant during the pandemic. When you mentioned fragile structures I can’t help but think about your experience working with bread and bread crumbs, walking in the space and generally the sensory experience. But also the proportions of the center point to the rest. Can you talk more about what it represents to you?
BAB. For my solo show last Fall, The Heel of the Loaf, I collected discarded bread from shops and bakeries here in Bushwick and Ridgewood. I collect materials outside the studio and then re-imagine and revisit places and residual materials from my surroundings, responding to the moment I find myself in–personal, local, or national. In this piece, the six sided dice had only one “6” side, face down, and five sides of “1”; this large scale sculptural installation was a meditation on fragile structures, sacred subsistence, and capitalism, where the odds of winning are against a majority of people.
Most of my works reflect on class, labor, subsistence, and the consequences of post colonial economic structures. My pieces obey the logic dictated by their concept, material, and process. In the making of a piece, I use all the forms that the material evolves. By the end, there is no waste, because the protocol is endless. I want to turn chaos into a glimpse of the infinite.
The Heel of the Loaf was all about how you felt walking into it, sticking your head inside it and being surprised by it. I’d hoped to make the viewer question their own body and presence in front of the work. It was a multi-sensory experience, a manifestation that connected directly to the viewer’s senses. The audience performed simply by walking into the gallery stepping on old loaves covering the floor into crumbs so thin it looked like sand. Through sculptural installation I hope to appeal to the viewer’s senses to trigger a thoughtful and meditative dialogue.
MW. Can you tell us more about the genesis of The Heel of the Loaf?
BAB. For this piece, I was focused on the revelation of the fragile economic structures in the US which were crumbling at the start of the pandemic. I wanted visitors to be taken off guard: to be directly impacted by the piece. I want my work to be physical at some level, or a disruption of reality – to disrupt some type of normalcy, conventions, boundaries or challenge the rules, questioning structures or addressing existential questions, to be thought-provoking, a little bit strange, just on the other side.
MW. What do you have ongoing and/or upcoming that you can share with us?
BAB. I’m excited to show a new painting in August 2021 for the group exhibition Staying Inn at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Currently I’m in the midst of making two chairs to complete my new sculpture Hybrid Buffet, which was showcased last June at the Flux Factory for Din Din, an art food outdoor series of events. Hybrid Buffet is a table mosaic made of discarded bread fully coated with matte varnish inspired from the front of Ketchaoua mosque in Algiers, which was destroyed turned into a church under the French then turned into a mosque, addressing labor but also the hybridization of culture, architectonic narratives, mechanism of assimilation, colonization, war but most importantly pacifism, and the act of breaking bread together.
I’m also preparing an experimental film for an upcoming art fair, and working on the pre-production of my second solo show which will be based in sculpture and video art. I am also working on the production of a new piece involving two fabric sculptures and a documentary video about the French flea market. I have a long list of artworks I need to produce, which will keep me busy for many years if not a lifetime. I’m overwhelmed but it’s only good stress so I’m happy!
Finally, I’m also an independent art writer/curator and founder of Gallery Perchée, an online art gallery specializing in leading emerging artists. I have a few upcoming curatorial projects for 2021-2022 in NY and Chicago that I’m very excited about with wonderful artists. Architecture of Elsewhere now on view virtually at Gallery Perchée during the Summer of 2021. My other upcoming show Vector will open in Sept 2022 at Heaven Gallery Chicago, amidst other NY projects cooking for 2021 and 2022.
Earthly Delights winning artist Chantel Ness in conversation with Show & Telephone’s Madeline Walker & Audra Lambert
Thanks Chantel for chatting with us! What about the theme of the open call “Earthly Delights” caught your attention in relation to your artistic practice?
While contemplating the theme of “Earthly Delights”, I was drawn to the notions of clearing and culling to make room for growth and new creation. My artistic practice materialized as a direct result of pandemic isolation. I had been caught in a cycle of overexertion and perpetual burn-out: chasing career achievements for fulfillment. Only once I removed the superficial distractions of my work life was I able to peer inward to discover a well-spring of latent creativity and find my place as an artist. This has been a season to release those patterns and behaviors that once felt so important, but now appear redundant, trivial or even inflammatory.
One of my larger works – “Spring Training: The World Without Us” – was inspired by reading Alan Wesiman’s article “Earth Without People” and his follow-up non-fiction book. His thought-experiment on depopulation prompted me to contemplate the possibility we may never return to the outside world as it was pre-pandemic. This piece imagines an Earth devoid of any future human interference or destruction. Left only with remnants of our infrastructure, the flora and fauna are given space to thrive and evolve into newer, more resilient forms. What could be possible if we surrendered control and let life happen organically?
In “Conservation of Greatness”, I celebrate “Earthly Delights” through the simple freedom of play outdoors. The purest pleasure can be found in fresh cut grass, a warm breeze and connection to the body in coordinated motion. The fusion of indoor/outdoor spaces suggests a disintegration of confinement. The wistful longing for a return to open-air interactions is a base human compulsion: a prescription for fear and isolation.
Can you give us insight into how your upbringing and experience living in rural areas in Canada influenced your work, for example with Controlled Burn?
I hail from a remote town in Northern Saskatchewan called Meadow Lake. It is known for being a vast and empty space populated only by those tough enough to stand the unforgiving winters by playing hockey. In my upbringing, there was such an emphasis on athletics at the detriment of artistic or cultural pursuits. For a time I grappled with self-pity at my interests being swept aside before ultimately embracing my unique positioning. I had been a spectator for long enough to know the world of sports intimately, but maintain the outsider’s vantage point necessary to expand the discourse of athletics through contemporary art. As a way of entering into dialogue with those around me, I use sport as an accessible medium to approach deeper themes of importance to me. I revel at the chance to take subject matter traditionally perceived as “low-brow” and elevate it to a topic worthy of artistic contemplation.
My piece “Controlled Burn” was motivated by the boreal backdrop of my “wildhood”. Taking the life cycle of the tree as a metaphor for ideation: from germination to maturation, with stages of revision and deconstruction before emerging as a finished article. In wildland management, a controlled burn is essential to maintaining the health of a forest or grassland ecosystem. Whether with the intention to re-wild an area that was once urbanized or as a preventative measure, a prescribed burn can mitigate future hazards. While seemingly a violent and destructive act, the burn reveals the soil’s mineral layer and stimulates seed germination. To me, this serves as a poignant symbol as we set about emerging from our pandemic state. Perhaps without the proverbial heat, we might not have undergone this integral process of examination. The Timbersport depicted in this piece is called a “Spring Chop” – apt for my ruminations on the theme.
You have mentioned forest fires and your relationship to individuals working in that industry, can you elaborate on how this impacts your work?
In my community, which is predominantly First Nations, there is a tragic lack of economic growth and development. A trend emerged where persons in dire circumstances were inclined to light forest fires simply to be hired on a team paid to extinguish the fires. In the most extreme cases, these infernos would become uncontrolled causing unintended destruction of homes and infrastructure. My father, a Conservation Officer, became an Arson Fire Investigator tasked with discovering the sources of ignition. His involvement with these blazes educated me not only on fire prevention and management but of systemic inequality for Indigenous Peoples. Recently in Kamloops British Columbia, the bodies of 215 First Nations children were found buried on the site of a Catholic Residential School. Weighing heavy on my heart, the stone border painted on “Controlled Burn” contains 215 markers representing each of those victims. Canada has been broken for a very long time and only now are steps being taken toward reconciliation.
I find some topics are too painful to approach directly. I prefer instead to deploy unusual and humorous contexts to make work that toes the line between lighthearted and sincere. Disguised in a visually optimistic language, my work draws on the various tensions in my sphere of consciousness. Finding a way to constructively parse thoughts of racial inequality, gender disparity, extremism, climate crisis and mental health has been vital to my practice.
What do you have ongoing and/or upcoming that you can share with us?
Prior to taking up painting, I made a career in Interior Design. I think you can see traces of my former métier bleeding into my compositions. A friend of mine has taken over an iconic Sports Bar in Montreal, I have been joyfully commissioned to provide artwork and imprint my design sensibilities. Sneak preview: hand-painted wallpaper depicting former Montreal Expos baseball players in PlayGirl poses. I have been delighted how my practice has built a bridge to other humans: both artists and sports fans in equal measure. To have my voice as a female artist represented in a traditionally male-dominated space is supremely satisfying.
Once COVID restrictions ease, I dream of staging my first solo exhibition “Sports: Illustrated”. Being confined to my loft for the last 16 months has yielded a robust body of work and a yearning to share my work with others in a physical space. Until then, I continue with my self-taught practice, untangling ideas on canvas including some larger-scale pieces currently in progress.
The artist can be found at her website – Chantel Ness, www.minorleagues.xyz and on Instagram: @minor_leagues. -Ed.s
The performativity of gender and sex positive attitudes emerge at the forefront of Naomi Elena Ramirez’ exhibition-as-book project, Beaver.
Artist Naomi Elena Ramirez leads the charge in Feminist art project “BEAVER”: a book that presents a Feminist exhibition from a range of viewpoints. The publication, which is available via the project’s website, charts a range of perspectives from artists including Keren Moscovitch, Carol-Anne McFarlane, Damali Abrams, Leslie Tucker, Katrina Majkut, Julia Kim Smith, mothertongues, Mirabelle Jones and Ramirez herself, among others. This iteration of “BEAVER” centers intersectional Feminist perspectives on pornography, sexuality and self-expression. Ramirez spent significant time on cultivating and presenting a range of artistic projects intersecting with this powerful theme.
“BEAVER” began as an exhibition taking place in 2014 at the Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn, and three subsequent exhibitions and this inaugural publication interrogate media representations of the female body and sexuality. Artists are asked to respond to the following questions put forth by Ramirez, “How do phenomena like “slut-shaming” and the threat of sexual violence delineate, thwart, or promote female sexual self-expression? What are the different ways that racial and sexual identities are culturally inscribed on the female body?” Participating artist Leslie Tucker reflects, ” Naomi’s BEAVER Project examines the constant messaging around women as a class, which pervades my work as well; how women are treated in the media in terms of sexuality, violence, or just micro-aggressions daily in society. I think it’s critical to ascertain not only how these messages are circulated and perpetuated in Western society and media, but also how they are received by individuals – of all backgrounds.” These and other similar responses to Ramirez’ questions provide a pivotal lens by which artists visually explore how women reclaim agency and power with regard to their identity, sexuality and representation in the public eye.
Something for everyone greets readers of the publication, as representational painting, photography, performance art, sculpture and a range of other artistic practices form the fertile ground through which artists explore themes related to the “BEAVER” prompt. By subverting patriarchal expectations and mining rich expressions of feminist presentations, artists create powerful responses to society’s sexualized expectations for female-identifying artists.
Editor and artist Naomi Elena Ramirez (b. Hermosillo, Mexico) is a mexican-american multidisciplinary conceptual artist and curator whose work encompasses visual art, video art, and contemporary dance, and the process by which the different mediums can inform each other. Naomi has an MFA in Visual Art from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BA in Dramatic Art/Dance from the University of California at Berkeley. Her work has been exhibited and presented by A.I.R. Gallery, the Institute of (Im)Possible Subjects, Movement Research at the Judson Church, DoublePlus at Gibney Dance, The Bronx Latin American Art Biennial, and many others in the US and abroad. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
A feeling of lightness and buoyancy surrounds viewers upon entering “Traces,” a mixed-media installation by multidisciplinary artist Tulu Bayar on view through June 13th at Amos Eno Gallery. Over one hundred circular works composed of photographic film rolls, ink, and resin float weightlessly on the walls. These are presented in the space at varying heights as if rising and cresting, like a wave, and floating around the viewer. Dark rolls of film spiral, unravel, and protrude from the works with a deliberate sense of gesture and line, while vibrant colors swirl within the transparent resin. Citing influences such as calligraphy, Islamic manuscript painting, and ebru – the mesmerizing practice of Turkish marbling art – Tulu Bayar crafts a distinctive visual language that viewers can interpret and find meaning within.
Anchoring the space are four works which lie flat on plinths, offering the viewer the opportunity to peer down into their depths to explore Bayar’s works in more detail. Here, one can appreciate the materiality present and inherent to each unique work. Layered film rolls and multicolored inks sit on top of each other with a meditative stillness, as if frozen in time. “The gestural record on the surface stages a moment of existence that is no other moment,” remarks Bayar. “By containing that peculiar moment, I feel like I am able to memorialize the process.”
With “Traces,” Bayar deftly explores the metaphysical, the idea of oneness and the interconnected nature of beings and forms, and how individual difference resides within communal existence. This promotes an attitude of active engagement from the visitor.This lively, interactive process of “reading” reflects Bayar’s interest in the spirituality of mysticism and the teachings of Rumi. “The appearance of things changes according to emotions, and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves,” Bayar reflects, quoting Rumi directly. As we look into these works, we are looking into ourselves as well. As Bayar describes, this series embodies a “form of thinking and discovering a journey on a contained surface.” To embark on this journey with her, all viewers need is their imagination and a willingness to look.
ANTE mag. We are excited to interview you, Emily, and wanted to start by learning more about your ethos. Can you tell us more about how interconnectedness forms a foundation of your approach in your practice?
Emily Weiskopf. I’m excited to be here with ANTE mag! There is a mystical or spiritual process involved in making my work that seeks to fuse or reunite the divine past, present and future together simultaneously because in many ways that is how everything is occurring. With the growing disconnect between humanity and the natural world there is a sense, more and more that I am being guided to create what hopes to evoke a collective, nurturing consciousness to the cause and effect of life. 2020 illustrated this to us in many ways, as has other times in history.
In October of 2019, I was at the White Sands creating a sand work/ritual and I had a premonition that something catastrophic was coming for humanity, as unbelievable, crazy as it may sound. I have always had a 3rd eye sense and after a near fatal car crash it seemed to increase. As my physical body became limited other senses became amplified. For that reason I think a lot about what is not physical to the eye, that all sentient life, is speaking to us, teaching us and each other about how it works together. This doesn’t mean the grass is talking… but it is alive, has energy and the reason we love to stand barefoot in it. You automatically feel more connected, more aware, it’s essential life. Historically we have always read the stars and Cosmic strings, a scientific term with no complete proof, yet, speaks to this on universal level, a bit like alchemy in a way. Part of my practice also involves Buddhism and it is said that our thoughts are carried in the air, nothing is ever lost in the universe. I truly believe that. My work may stem from my personal narrative and lens of perspective, but it is not meant for me.
ANTE mag. You work at a range of scales and with a diverse set of materials. Can you tell us more about your recent body of work, ‘The Fragility of Tranquility’?
EW. “The Fragility of Tranquility” was named by artist and gallery director Michael David. He organized a 2-person show between myself and artist Tim Casey which came right at the end of 2020. This consisted of Translations and Responses, a series of small paintings on vellum, which reflect an intimate, yet transparently tender and disconnected dialog of hypersensitivity between self and place, allowing only the essential. Most of these drawings are created on both sides as dual dialog with eyes open and closed as were a few works in porcelain in response to the destruction, deterioration, ongoing forest fires, and riots in 2020. Seeing, feeling, listening to transcend light as a way to balance and clear the energy. I was also recovering from 4 months of spine treatments and working to regain my strength to create a new public sculpture. These were a bridge to slowly reconnect and integrate my energy, self and ideas in alignment with the current world.
ANTE mag. Many artists working during this time have responded in some way to the immeasurable impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Can you tell us more about the genesis and realization of your project, “The Clearing” (12/2020)?
EW.The Clearing, as a ritual, was created to emanate a collective, vibrational universal healing through clearing, releasing, and grounding the emotional wounds and trauma of 2020. I felt this to be one of the closest ways I could give to others and to the Earth as gently as possible with no impact or waste, my compassion and care, while demonstrating in action a process of reflection and connection before letting the wind take it away.
In releasing, there is a process of accepting, understanding and allowing the importance of emptiness, space. Following the creation, I walked into the center of a mandala to begin and conclude the ritual with a Clearing Prayer. My ongoing studies and practice with Lama Losang, of the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center (Philadelphia, PA) also took part in the symbology of this mandala. When I had my premonition in October at the White Sands I also realized the vitalness of the lesson of the sand, again, the interconnection came. My spinal cord was injured during a procedure the previous summer and I didn’t know how/if I could continue my practice but that day it began again. I wanted to learn the sacred Buddhist tradition of sand painting with its dismantling to participate in greater actions to uplift and bring caring not only to every person who sees it, but also to bless the environment and all sentient life in the release of suffering. I flew to Philadelphia in Feb 2020 ask the Venerable Lama Losang to train me, and I am humbled he said yes. He is one of the Mandala Masters who created the first public sand mandala in the US in 1988.
ANTE mag. Incredible! So let’s also address your project “Unparallel Way” manifested in 2013 in partnership with Old Stone House in Brooklyn and the NYC Dept of Transportation. What was it like working in large-scale installation, and how did this impact your practice?
EW. It was the best- it was. First off, I loved working with the Old Stone House- Kim Maier, Katherine Gressel who found me and curated me, and Emily Colassaco of the NYC Dept of Transportation. They are fantastic and I hope I get to work with them all again. I really enjoyed making a site-specific work, remark on present times, getting to know the Park Slope Civic Board – the community and being able to positively impact the public space, the city I called home for 16 -17 years. It’s a big undertaking to be handling all the details that go into doing public work especially when it’s just you, low-budget, with a steep learning curve but it’s a tremendous learning opportunity which shifts your entire perspective. I became aware of the impact Public Art can make. It was put in front of park and a parent came up to me and said you brighten and made this entire area safer, especially for the kids. As a teacher, this meant a lot and I have also became a volunteer with Civic & Community Boards.
ANTE mag. You create artwork in a range of disciplines – installation, works on paper, sculpture and even video. How do you approach working across multiple mediums? How does the concept for an artwork impact the medium in which you work?
EW. Yes I do, and for that reason it can get a bit crazy in the studio. In thinking about interconnectedness, I feel the diversity of my materials match the metaphor, the experience, and the message I hope to transcend. The world is covered in sand, an ocean, rocks, an ozone, the sky, the man-made industry and yet it all eventually connects and affects one another. I apply this concept to my practice. I’m naturally enticed by materiality, the chemistry, the physicality and use transparency often to show the inner workings. I have been using raw oxides in my work for years, have a 30 year rock collection and grew up watching a lot of mechanics and engineers. Additionally, because I have ongoing medical procedures due to a progressive degenerative disease I’ve managed since I was an adolescent, my practice demands shifts to my process which match my temporal and restricted physicality. Yet, the pencil is at my core and I’d lose track without my sketchbook! as I tend to do a lot of research and studies.Over the past year I have begun working with salvaged glass (“Liberty Bell”) which I am quite intrigued by even in these early stages and timed “drawings” (“Emerging”). These drawings document the regenerative, internal struggle and growth of a tree hit by lighting with the physicality of my own hands to speak on resilience and touch/engagement. I’m currently losing mobility, and grip in my right hand – my drawing hand and I’m working to keep it agile, implementing my left hand more to investigate interconnections between mind and body experiences and to stay in touch in every sense of the word. My physical limitations and unexpected rest bits can be very frustrating-challenging at times but they continuously guide me to new potentials in creation and ways of seeing that I may have never discovered otherwise. I am thankful for that. It keeps things stirring in and out of the studio for me and in many ways helps me to feel limitless.
ANTE mag. What is coming up for you on the horizon that we should be on the lookout for?
EW. Beginning this month (May 2021) I will begin my first Permanent Public Art work commissioned by the City of Austin Art in Public Places (AIPP) program of the Cultural Arts Division, Economic Development Department in collaboration with the Emergency Medical Services and Fire Departments. I will embed with the community, crews and their stations to research, interview and observe before beginning the work. The aim is to create a work which is emblematic in reflecting their experiences and in generating safer communities through prevention, preparedness, and effective emergency response. I’ve been invited to do a public artwork with the Jersey City waterfront Exchange Alliance hopefully to come to fruition this summer, as timing has been a bit hijacked since Covid-19. Lastly, I will be joining Lama Losang, at last in the creation of a large public sand mandala in Philadelphia which has been postponed since last April due to Covid-19. All good things!
When the Albright-Knox Northland art museum announced their exhibition “Comunidades Visibles: The Materiality of Migration (La Materialidad de Migración)” curated by Andrea Alvarez, the premise emerged over the course of the exhibition as a clearly communicated, and community-oriented, concept. The show features works by artists Carolina Aranibar-Fernández, Esperanza Cortés, Raúl de Nieves, Patrick Martinez and Ronny Quevedo, all amassed for this exhibition, which remains on view through May 16 at the Albright-Knox Northland in Buffalo, NY. The exhibit focuses on highlighting works by First and Second-generation artists from the Latinx community based in the US, and presents materials in dialogue with lived histories and the effects of colonization. Of this tightly curated selection of artists, works forming highlights in this exhibition are installations by artist Esperanza Cortés, born in Colombia and based in New York City, which immediately catch the eye. Cortés investigates bodies and their accessories and frameworks in relation to both colonial legacies and gendered identities, and the sculptures she presents in this exhibition play with the evident and implied meanings of interiors and objects/material cultures. The compelling formal qualities present in the artist’s materials finds an echo in how the Latinx community encountering these works can respond to the installation art in visceral and personal ways.
Cortés’ work embraces an ambitious range of scales, with bejeweled chains reaching up to glorious heights while meticulously arranged glass beads adorn household furniture displayed just out of reach from museum guests. Cortés investigates how everyday objects from the home can be transformed, even transmuted, to communicate precious qualities of identity and memory. Nowhere is this embodiment of human identity indicated in the artist’s work more visibly than in her work La Cordobésa, depicted above. “As a former Afro latin dancer and teacher, I imbued La Cordobésa with body memory through the use of the embroidery from my dance ensembles,” reflects Cortés. “I then married these remnants with glass beads and glass pieces referencing the origins of European colonial interest. The upper chair given to me by the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans is from the 20th century, while the chair legs acquired in Utica are from the 18th century. The piece is a hybrid, a metaphor for the diversity of the people who make up the Americas.” The artist’s work demonstrates a nuanced and powerful approach to the various means of self-identifying that communities of color undergo, asserting that colonized peoples have the power to reclaim their own sense of self, their own voice and the ability to exact agency via their self-asserted identities.
Meanwhile, the artist’s grand gesture evident in her work Empire lays bare both the price, and costs, of colonization. While colonizing forces were happy to take existing wealth present in the regions they colonized, often taking these precious materials by force to remit back home to Europe, the costs of this perceived luxury had a marked toll on local communities in colonized regions of the globe, particularly the Caribbean, Central and South America. The glory of these beautiful gold chains in the artist’s sculpture undulate forth from the chandelier down to the floor below, underscoring the deep impact that this search for treasure has continued to exert on devastated communities: in the artist’s own words, “Imbued with the invaders’ narcissistic gains, the process of colonization extinguished societies, cultures, languages, species, environments and histories by way of plunder, pillage, and violence dressed as civilization.” With grand form, Cortés creates an impactful and eloquent statement in her installation works on view about the lingering legacies that have transformed these regions of the world, adopting an autobiographical lens which allows visitors new avenues for contemplation around colonization.
On view through this Sunday at Albright-Knox Northland, “Comunidades Visibles: The Materiality of Migration (La Materialidad de Migración)” is free and open to the public, and further details can be found on their website (link in exhibition title above.) Artist Esperanza Cortés is a Colombian-born contemporary multidisciplinary artist based in NYC. Cortés has exhibited in venues across the US, including Smack Mellon Gallery, Bronx Museum of Art, Queens Museum, El Museo Del Barrio, MoMA PS1 and Socrates Sculpture Park (all in NYC.) National exhibition venues include Turchin Center for The Visual Arts, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Neuberger Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Art Museum.
ANTE mag is proud to feature our first artist interview as a result of our open call, “Alchemy”, curated by Independent Curator and Founder, Wedge Studio, Douglas Turner. Artist Elan Cadiz shares her responses to our questions in this insightful and wide-ranging interview, in which she re-examines her practice in the past year+ in the wake of Covid-19’s effects on a reeling art world, means of examining space for diversity and humanity in the arts landscape and a reflection on enduring in the face of adversity. We hope you feel inspired by her reflections below, and that you spend some time to appreciate her precise and insightful practice visible at her website:https://www.elancadiz.com/
cover image: Father and Son, from “Scaffold” series by Elan Cadiz. Image courtesy the artist.
ANTE mag. Given our current ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we paid careful attention to your project “Scaffold: Equity of Treatment” which highlights how equitable communities allow us to draw from a wellspring of support, and to then harness that self-love in order to serve our role in society. Can you tell us how this series began and how you choose subjects for your portraits in this series?
Elan Cadiz. Like most life happenings, there were several things occurring at once when Covid caused quarantine last year. I had just started a new job with a not for profit called Foster Pride and was teaching weekly classes at a Foster Care space in the Bronx. I was also asked to submit to an open call for an exhibition entitled “Brooklyn Utopias”, and simultaneously police violence towards Black civilians was escalating and protests were brewing. All of these things made me rely heavily on my spiritual beliefs. I meditated and in my meditation, I decided the best way of dealing with the unknown was to surrender and focus on what I had control over. I needed to resolve my frustration with the word “Utopia”. I felt it implied that unity can only be achieved through fantasy. This frustrated me because I believe the only way we can truly take care of our planet is through peace amongst its inhabitants. For me “Utopia” became a kind of prognosis that could be realized in some form through individualized focus that meditated on an individual’s mental, physical and spiritual well-being through different forms of equitable support. This individual self-care became “the scaffold”: a term used in education to imply the support any one individual student needed to succeed. But I was missing the social capital to invest. I realized I needed subjects to represent humanity and it’s diversity. I also wanted to highlight the many people that can exist in (and impact – Ed.’s) a person’s lifetime. That’s when I started to contact people that I worked with, exhibited with, hung out with, met through social media, etc. I would send them an email, DM, text, call and explain the project and request photos of themselves that theyliked/loved or reminded them of a good memory. I wanted as much of the body visible as possible so that the scaffold can support their full form. Headshots felt more like a memorial. We are so much more than a pretty picture. From a museum security guard that paints curvaceous bodies to a vogue dancer from the Bronx, my collection of subjects became a visual representation of diverse social capital and why equity was an important component. With so many differences it was very clear that fairness within the opportunities and support given had to be configured to fit the needs of the individual.
ANTE mag. Tell us about your recent shows: where have you been exhibiting work in 2020-21? How have these exhibits helped you further develop your artistic practice during this time?
EC. Last year was quite an adventure in building and understanding the Scaffold Project. I was able to find and create opportunities for myself and as the project developed, for others. Like I had mentioned earlier, I had applied to the “Brooklyn Utopias” open call and curator Katherine Gressel chose the Scaffold Project to be a part of the exhibition. I later asked Katherine to participate in the Scaffold Project, and she was kind enough to say yes. “Brooklyn Utopias: 2020” was exhibited at the Old Stone House in Washington Park, Brooklyn, New York during the summer.Then in the fall, curator, former collaborator and Scaffold Project participant, Souleo, contacted me about an opportunity to exhibit the Scaffold Project in Styling: Black Expression, Rebellion and Joy Through Fashion at Nordstrom, NYC flagship store. This was exciting because it was not a traditional exhibition space: it highlighted the individual fashion and use of fashion to express one’s individuality and it connected Scaffold Project participants Ricky Jones and Souleo. Ricky and his stylish colorful wigs were also exhibited.
During this time I had also and accidentally became friends with (the Harlem-based curator.-Ed.s) Connie Lee. A mutual friend of ours had posted on Instagram a graffiti cleanup on 125th Street and Connie was in charge of the effort. I was so excited to participate because I had tried to clean the artwork on my own with regular cleaning materials and was unsuccessful. I was very excited to see if we would be able to clean the graffiti off the public artworks.The day was a success and we (several women and a couple of men) were able to remove all of the graffiti with brilliant cleaning wipes that Connie supplied us with. I posted our victory on social media and followed Connie in case of any other cleanups. As time moved on we realized we knew some of the same people, lived in Harlem, loved plants and art and became friends. I asked Connie to participate in the Scaffold Project and she agreed and as time went on I realized her connection to the arts in Harlem. She so kindly asked me to participate in the “Form, Paper, Scissors” exhibit at her Living with Art Salon. That was the first time a portion of the Scaffold: Equity of Treatment project was exhibited.
2021 began very strong for me and I was able to have two solo exhibitions of the Scaffold Project. Firstly at Adelphi University, curated by Jonathan Duff, and secondly at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey curated by Mary Birmingham. I was also so fortunate to be a part of 4 group exhibitions in 2021. Altered Grain, at the Stay Home Gallery in Paris, TNLove This Time, The Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership/ FOKUS, NYC& Giving Light: An Art Antidote to Gun Violence, Bronx Art Space,
I was introduced to the Stay Home Gallery, and Kaylan Buteyn’s Artist/Mother podcast through friend, artist, mother and Scaffold Project participant, Anna Ogier – Bloomer. That connection gave me formal experience as an Artist-mother-mentor, which was an enjoyable and enlightened experience that I plan to revisit and develop. I have so many stories of ways my appreciation for those around me brought positive experiences into my life. Through all of this I’ve learned the importance of checking in with friends and acquaintances, follow-up, sharing what I’m working on, sharing ideas, sharing opportunities and practicing thankfulness.
ANTE mag. You have created artwork for shows at the Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; El Museo del Barrio in Harlem, NY; Art in Flux, Harlem, NY; and the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum in Mt Vernon, NY – among other sites. Can you share how you approach working with a site and how you translate concepts into site-specific work?
EC. I was commissioned by the Studio Museum in Harlem to create bouquets of flowers using museum paraphernalia for the First Lady’s luncheon with host Michelle Obama in 2013. I wanted to clarify that, because I did not exhibit artworks in the Studio Museum as an artist. I was more like an artist consultant hired for a very specific event. I exhibited at El Museo del Barrio as part of Uptown: Nasty Women/Bad Hombres exhibition in 2017 but was also commissioned to design/decorate drinking glasses as part of a raffle prize for their 2017 Gala. In all of the projects that I’ve taken on it’s important that the first connection is community. Most if not all of the work I’ve done touches on where I live & where I’m from, which is why I use the word domestic in my artist statement. I’m referring to all aspects of the word. I always look for the familiar and then allow that understanding space to define or redefine itself more thoroughly through observation and engagement. Spending time with collaborators and the spaces they/we occupy helps me to understand my task fully. I also almost always use whatI have easy access to. My goal is to utilize whatever a space has in abundance and like the Children’s book, Jacob Had A Little Overcoat by Simms Taback, make something out of nothing. Only nothing is the abundance of something that had been deemed “nothing” or overlooked.
ANTE mag. You note in your artist statement that you see yourself as “ a cultural interpreter and visual documentarian.” How did this become a key feature of your artistic practice and in what ways does it determine how you approach a new body of work?
EC. It wasn’t until quarantine and my separation from the continuous hustle and survival in New York City that I was able to understand what was important to me and my artistic practice.
In reflection, I realized that I existed in many different spaces. For example, I see myself as an artist but I’ve also been an art educator for 20 years, a mother for 18 years, a wife for 17 years and an ex-wife for 3 years. I was born and raised in NYC as well as my parents but their parents migrated here. My father’s family is from Puerto Rico and my mother’s side from Georgia and other Southern states. In 2016 when I got my DNA evaluated I learned I was connected to so many parts of the world. All of these things made me realize that the purpose of my work was to always teach what I learned and to make my art accessible for anyone to engage. As a Black, Latinx woman with a very mixed heritage, I was born an oppressed person with particular freedoms. In understanding my environment and the people in my environment, I hope to maximize my freedoms and liberate others through Visual understanding and disclosure.
ANTE mag. You frequently up-cycle or re-use materials in your project – for example, the Shizen Pastel Paper you incorporate in your Scaffold series is handmade in India from recycled paper, while the Harlem Wanishi Sukkah you produced in 2019 utilized community donations. How does this aspect of using sustainable materials inform your work?
EC. Sustainable materials are familiar. And as I mentioned in question three I usually begin with the familiar because it’s what I know. I think there is something that can be understood in all the work I do, be it the use of home as an archetype, human specific item/object(s) that can be found inside or outside a home, or a photograph of my changing community and it’s people in different stages of its existence … sustainable materials add a universal understanding and extended narrative to my pre-existing intention, widening its significance. Besides I’m doing my best to be a respectful and responsible Earthling.
ANTE mag. Finally, what projects do you have coming up that you can share with us?
EC. My biggest news is the culmination exhibition of SCAFFOLD: Equity of Treatment project Over 150 Scaffold Project portraits on view at the Royal Kente Gallery in Harlem, NYC from May 2nd – May 30th. I am beyond excited to have all the portraits in one space and in my community.It’s a dream come true for me. I also plan to slowly create a book that can represent its intention, as well as the participants. The goal is that the book be a shared authorship between all participants that want to contribute to the book. That will take a year or two to develop. As for the exhibition, it will be the last time all of the portraits will be together because afterward depending if any of them sell that money will be split with the gallery, the participant, and me and whatever is not sold will be given as a gift to the participant in the portrait.
Not everyone wants their portraits, so for those who don’t I’ll be keeping them but this will be an agreement between me and the participant and the first and last time to see all of them in a space together. For me that’s very exciting because although I love the project is quite exhausting on my body and my mind. I’m looking forward to letting it go and allowing it room to develop into whatever it needs to be. And whatever it becomes I hope it supports the importance of people, social capital and how together we will always be stronger.