Can you describe your journey as an artist? How did you end up at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD)?
I have always been an artist but when I graduated high school, I didn’t recognize art as a viable career. I spent a year in pre-veterinary medicine before I decided that I wanted an education in the arts. Though I was passionate about animal science, I was really interested in the way that art could be used as a form of physical or interactive communication that was potentially more accessible to people than reading articles or long texts. I saw the role that art had in a larger social movement and saw myself playing a part in that as an artist. MCAD appealed to me because when I was younger and had attended a National Portfolio Day for feedback on my artwork from different art colleges, I felt I received the most genuine critique of my work that not only emphasized the positives of my portfolio but also what needed improvement. Years later, as someone looking to transfer colleges, I remembered that experience with the MCAD counselor and the meaningful feedback I had received. It meant a lot to know I would be going into an environment where I was going to receive critical/constructive reviews that would help me make better work.
How would you describe your work to those who haven’t seen it?
I consider myself a conceptual artist, meaning I work in a variety of media and I allow the subject or idea I am interested in communicating to determine the media I choose for a project. My conceptual practice holds a mirror to White violence and complacency. I primarily focus on digital media, installation, and performance as a means of witnessing for the trans-generational experiences of marginalized people. As a Black woman in the United States, I recognize my existence as the result of centuries of displacement, trauma, exploitation, and propagation for the benefit of Western capitalism. My work explores an identity formed by generational survival of and resistance to imperialism.
Your work appears to center around history, especially historical trauma. Can you talk about why you’re drawn to the past, and how it influences your artwork?
That is true. I like to say that my process relies on research and examination of the past as a framework for critiquing the present. I prioritize the meaningful way that visualization and tactility can help make generational experiences of the disenfranchised more visible and intellectually accessible. The archives and history of Black people are integral to my practice. By creating visual commentary on parallels between issues with transgenerational relevance, I create a more easily identifiable link between the experiences of my diasporic contemporaries and those of their ancestors. I source physical and visual materials from the archive and use them in my work as a means of bringing them back into the present to mimic the way that, when retold, histories that exist exclusively in an oral tradition, are fluid and become integrated into personal memory rather than remaining distant and stagnant.
Can you describe how you’re using digital media to connect to the past? Do you find any tension in that balance between technology and history?
Much of my experience with historical research has been facilitated by digital media. Free platforms for hosting data, records, accounts, etc. are the main way I am able to access stories and genealogies. As a transplant from the South, digital media also allows me to continue a conversation with the community from which I am from and with which a lot of my work interacts. Because of my aforementioned interest in art as a means of communication, I very quickly saw myself drawn to digital media and the web as a way to broaden the audience of my work. History is a context that informs our current circumstances. I think that it’s essential that our relationship to the past reflect our relationship with the contemporary technologies available (especially technologies that can be used to spread information).
How do you approach reviewing high school art portfolios in your role at MCAD?
I try to advise students about not only their technical skills but also conceptual skills in a portfolio. I’m interested in seeing an understanding of composition, value, color, and materials/media. However, I’m also curious to hear students talk about why they chose a specific medium, what made them want to create a work, what inspires them, and where they see their work existing (i.e. magazines, museums, TV ads). Hearing about the driving forces behind young artists’ creations really help me to see more about their abilities to communicate when it comes to their art. In an art school, communication and critique is really important to the growth and success of a student. I really like to encourage people as early as possible to have a relationship with explaining their process. It’s a skill that you carry and develop through your art career!
Did you see any overall themes in this year’s High School Visual Arts Contest?
I think the themes I see from high schoolers tend to be similar no matter the year. Explorations of self, identity, or the people in their lives. The themes I see just seem to reflect what it means to be right at the point where a person is transitioning from being a child [making art] to an adult [making art].
What advice do you have for the students who entered this year’s HSVAC?
My advice for students who entered this year’s HSVAC is to continue challenging themselves. I think it shows great initiative as an artist to enter a completely extracurricular art contest. Some of the people from MCAD that I’ve seen go on to be most successful are ones that challenged themselves, involved themselves in the art world outside of just what they were required to do for school, and that sought out and really critically considered feedback about their work!