Processed with VSCO with c3 preset

Meet Kameelah Janan Rasheed, 2017 SOAPBOX Honoree

April 24, 2017

We interviewed Kameelah Janan Rasheed, 2017 SOAPBOX Alumni Honoree, about what inspires her work, her connection to The LP, and more. Read to find out what she had to say”

 

What is your bio in six words or less?

Perpetually curious artist, writer, and educator.

 

What motivates or inspires your creative practice?

I am inspired by what it looks like to think publicly and to create a space for others to do the same.

 

You grew up in the bay area in California, but have since then made a home in Crown Heights. Can you tell us about your relationship with your neighborhood, and how it may have shifted over the years?

I was born and bred in East Palo Alto, CA, a small former farming town in the Peninsula about 15 minutes away from Stanford University. Despite our proximity to more financially affluent areas, we did not share in that wealth. For what my city did not have in financial wealth, it had it cultural and pedagogical wealth. East Palo Alto is the city that I learned the love of reading in our school’s publishing center where I wrote, illustrated, and published over a dozen books before I left second grade. It is the city where I learned to love science while collecting water samples at San Francisquito Creek with Mr. Barksdale, dissecting coyote scat with my third-grade classmates at Coyote Point, and fed lab mice to an eagle that often visited our school. It is the city where my intelligence and creativity was reaffirmed. It is important not to be lulled by nostalgia. My city also experienced its sets of problems. I can confront the nuance of these issues, but what’s been most upsetting is that these sets of problems have been the most dominant in the narration of our city’s rapid gentrification by tech companies. In this battle to justify the narrative of a poor and disorganized city saved by revitalization efforts, stories like mine and many other residents are shuffled into the margins. To that end, I have been interested in what role our city’s historians and archivists play in the fight to preserve not just fair rents, but also historical sites and ephemera in my community.

 

How did you first get connected with The Laundromat Project?

A few artists that I admired were previously fellows, and I decided to apply and join what seemed from the outside like a nurturing and rigorous community. Upon joining, I was excited to experience a sense of community and rigor that exceeded my initial imaginings.

 

What impact has participating in the Create Change Fellowship had on your practice?

The Create Change Fellowship provided a space to consider strategic listening and nuanced engagement as productive processes for strong collaborations. This ethos has impacted how I approach both long-term and short-term collaboration as well as my personal relationships. I am grateful to have participated in program that made both intentional process and product priorities.

You explore the relationship between power, history, and the archive, which we’ve seen in exhibitions of your work such as Future Perfect/indices & marginalia at The Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn. How does this process help us understand the present and propel us forward into the future?

A text I return to frequently is Stuart Hall’s 2005 interview with David S. Scott in BOMB Magazine. I appreciate this conversation because it established such a generative conceptual framework for thinking through how we narrate the relationship between the past, present, and future. In particular, he argues for a consideration of historical narration that isn’t reliant on convenient, immaculate, and comfortable narrative arcs like those of the romantic revolution, or this idea that there is a clear progression into an equitable future. Instead, he advocates for an engagement with tragedy, suggesting that it seems to be an “appropriate mode of emplotment for an historical moment in which the guarantee of former futures has waned, in which the great narratives of emancipation have become, at best, enfeebled” as we exist in the space of “out-of-jointness between our former languages of opposition, hope, and change, and the world they were meant to criticize.” While this was written in 2005, I believe it still resonates today. There is a glitch. We, at times, are articulating a resistance to the current state of affairs through a lens of nostalgia and romance that is not compatible for fully confronting this protracted moment.

 

In my work, I am not interested in resurrecting nostalgic or romantic pasts; rather, I am invested in engaging with the messy bits of history, the stutter, the disobedient bits that resist both linearity, and the comforts of teleological endings. To that end, I do not think we can get to the future if we do not contend with the uncomfortable present and interrogate the ways that we have narrated the past. I find that at times, there is a hurry into an assumed future and this doesn’t leave space for a practice of durational looking at our conditions. As I work through archives, I am considering how we read, write, consume, distribute and archive the histories (and futures) of black folks. In doing this, I am interested in making sense of the archive as both as liberating space to assert the visibility, but also a space riddled by a colonial momentum that looked at the collection and institutionalization of information as another tool to extend power. To that end, archives and their relationship to time interest me because it is an invitation to consider the political and politicized nature of narration. In my sprawling archival installations, I engage with the narration through the aesthetics of the stutter, the glitch, the disjuncture, and temporal rhythm.

You’ve had an impressive career as an educator and artist. How do you balance both, and how does each role influence the other?

My work as a former high school teacher and now a curriculum developer helps me think through how the concept and design of my work engage with pedagogy. Particularly, I am invested in open texts, open meaning, and what it means to invite the audience to engage in more rigorous cognitive work in an exhibition space.

 

It is certainly difficult to work 40-60 hours a week, then go back to Brooklyn and get to work in my studio. As I have gotten older, I have grown more vigilant with time. As such, in my personal life and professional life, I do not take on anything that doesn’t feel aligned to my purpose. My purpose at this point is to make work across a range of disciplines that personally feds my curiosity while also advancing narratives and discursive opportunities to consider a more nuance way to make sense of history. Being vigilant with time is not enough. In the past two years, I have also been lucky enough to have a few close friends and a partner who have been great professional, emotional, and spiritual supports that can ground me as I navigate all of this.

 

You come from a non-traditional background as a artist, having studied education and public policy. What would be your advice to those without formal artistic training or fine arts degrees who are developing their own practice as artist?

Explore. Most of what I’ve learned has come through experimentation and taking on short apprenticeships. More than anything, it is important not to associate all learning with formal schooling. Much of what I learned about making art came from tinkering, informal research, and observation.

 

What is your favorite book, film, and / or album about NYC?

Spike Lee’s film “Crooklyn.”

 

“free-association”—tell us the first word that comes to mind:

Art:

Story

Culture:

Black

 

Media:

Literacy

 

Power:

Shifts

Community:

Conversations

 

Home:

Bound

 

Faith:

Ful(l)

Language:

Stutter

Archives:

Margins

 

Studio:

Practice

 

Education:

Kitchen

Self-determination:

Name

 

Laundromat:

Quarters

 

Neighborhood:

Changing

 

Love:

Always

 

Kameelah Janan Rasheed (2013 Create Change Fellow) is a Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist, former high school public school teacher, and writer working in installation, photography, printmaking, publications, and performance. In addition to her full-time work as a social studies curriculum developer for New York public schools, she is currently an artist-in-residence at Smack Mellon and on the faculty in the MFA Fine Arts program at the School of Visual Arts. She has exhibited her work at Jack Shainman Gallery, Studio Museum in Harlem, Bronx Museum, Queens Museum, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, among others. Rasheed has forthcoming solo and group shows in Philadelphia, Boston, Portland, and New York City for 2017 as well as 2018. Recently selected as a finalist for the Future Generation Art Prize, she is the recipient of several other awards and honors including Harpo Foundation Grant (2016), Magnum Foundation Grant (2016), Creative Exchange Lab at the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (2016), Keyholder Residency at LES Print Studio (2015), Triple Canopy Commission at New York Public Library Labs (2015), Artadia Grant (2015), Queens Museum Jerome Emerging Artist Fellowship (2015) Art Matters Grant (2014), Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant (2014), among others. She has spoken and facilitated discursive programming at a number of institutions such as the New Museum (forthcoming), Montclair Art Museum (forthcoming), Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, Queens Museum, The Museum of the City of New York, the Center for Book Arts, Creative Time, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Interference Archive, Northwestern University (forthcoming), Maryland Institute of College of Art (forthcoming), Hampshire College (forthcoming), School of Visual Arts, Parsons, The New School, NYU, Columbia University, Barnard, and the University of Illinois. Her writing has been published in The New Inquiry, Gawker, The Guardian, Creative Time Reports, Hyperallergic, MoMA Blog, Walker Art Center Blog, among others. A 2006 Amy Biehl U.S. Fulbright Scholar to South Africa, she earned her B.A. in public policy at Pomona College and he Ed.M at Stanford University in Secondary Education. Learn more about her at www.kameelahr.com.

 

TLP-Logo-Final2

Buy Your Tickets

Make A Donation
 
Find Out More About SOAPBOX 2017 Here

 




HWT_headshot_by_Andrea_blanch-120

SOAPBOX 2017 Interview Questions: Hank Willis Thomas

April 21, 2017

Find out what inspires the work and life of Hank Willis Thomas, one of our 2017 SOAPBOX Honorees for Award for Art in Community:

 

What is your bio in six words or less?

I am a person.

 

Who are you are in community with?

Humanity.

 

How did you first get connected with The Laundromat Project, and what made you decide to become such a great supporter of our work?

I first heard about The Laundromat through Rise Wilson over a decade ago, when it was just sounded like a cool idea. I have had several dear friends do collaborations with The LP and my appreciation for this dedicated work grew through me watching the work of my friend Petrushka Bazin (who was Program Manager of The LP until 2015). My enthusiasm also grew when I learned that Kemi was coming on as Executive Director.

 

What most inspires your creative practice?

The same thing that compels me to get out of bed: Blind Necessity.

 

Why do you feel it’s important to engage in explorations of race, visual culture, and perception through art, such as what you’ve done with “Question Bridge: Black Males” (which you collaborated on with 2010 Create Change Artist-in-Residence Bayeté Ross Smith) and “For Freedoms Super PAC”? What is the impact you’ve seen from doing this work?

I feel like everyone should do their best to have the best positive impact they can have on the world that the can. We will never know the depth of the actual impact, but Audre Lorde said it best when she wrote: “It is better to speak, knowing we were never meant to survive.”

 

Similar to you, many of us in The LP community work collaboratively to use art to amplify voices and advocate for social justice. What have you learned from working with others, and what would be your advice on how to do this successfully?

Patience, Generosity, Humility, Vulnerability, Stupidity, Accountability, Curiosity, Creativity, Endurance, Compassion, Luck, Fortitude, Failure, Joy, and Love.

 

You’ve also collaborated with and worked alongside your mother, Dr. Deborah Willis. What does it mean to be honored alongside her for SOAPBOX 2017?

LIke mother, like son?

 

What is your favorite book, film, and / or album about NYC?

The “Best of Simple” by Langston Hughes.

 

Free-association—tell us the first word that comes to mind:

Art:

Life

 

Bodega:

Corner

 

Culture:

Here

 

Object:

Eye

 

Music:

Ear

 

Studio:

Heart

 

Laundromat:

Fabric Softener

 

Neighborhood:

Changing

 

Beauty:

Changes

 

Love:

Overrules

 

Legacy:

Irony

 

Family:

Plane

 

Visit Hank Willis Thomas’s artist website here.

 

TLP-Logo-Final2

Buy Your Tickets

Make A Donation
 
Find Out More About SOAPBOX 2017 Here




Deborah_Willis_photo_HankThomasSr

Meet Dr. Deborah Thomas, 2017 SOAPBOX Honoree

April 20, 2017

Find out what inspires the work and life of Dr. Deborah Thomas, one of our 2017 SOAPBOX Honorees for Award for Art in Community:

 

What is your bio in six words or less?

Mother, photographer, sister, wife, curator, mentor.

 

Who are you are in community with?

Women artists and photographers, photographers, singers and critical thinkers.

 

Can you tell us about your relationship with your neighborhood (or a neighborhood), and how it may have shifted over the years?

Artist David Avalos believes “Our art and our culture does not reside in artifacts, does not reside on objects, but resides within our attitudes, our ideas, our value systems.” I love his words and what he means about where art resides…so…my neighborhood has changed over the years from finding a girl chat community in a neighborhood beauty shop either in LA, DC, NYC, Brooklyn, or Philly to just being in a community space sharing my work on black photographers and framing beauty in black culture with interested people. My neighborhood could possibly be the Village around NYU or speaking on a college campus about my work at the David Driskell Center in College Park or Eso Won bookstore in LA.

 

How did you first get connected with The Laundromat Project?

I am a big fan of the Laundromat Project and my connection begins with its inception. Rise Wilson was a student in my Beauty Matters seminar at New York University when she discussed the concept of the importance of presenting art to the community and the best way for community to meet and connect is the laundromat—a central place for women, men and children. I was encouraged by her vision and passion for the arts.

 

What most inspires your creative practice?

Old photographs, historical memory and storytelling.

 

Much of your career has been dedicated to the inclusion of black artists (including yourself) and representation of black beauty, in the arts, and by extension, society as a whole. What does it mean to both carry and share these histories/stories?

Throughout my writing and research, I have focused on identity and self-image, the work ultimately reminds us of the historic ways photography allowed a people to counter the negative image of them in the culture at large. In the end, I believe that the photograph has historically served as a powerful mirror in the African American community, reflecting the achievements, triumphs and positive imagery all too often erased from the culture at large and Hank has witness this body of work developing. It has also documented and disempowering images have been circulating over the years. As a professor, photographer, curator, art historian mentor, and mother, my message has always been the same – in search of beauty – only my way of communicating it has changed through organizing conferences, exhibitions and publishing books. In my view, we (Hank and other changemakers) are responsible for the future of our work in the arts, which we must bring about through our practice and writings and actions that contribute to building a stronger and inclusive social practice. It is a wonderful!

 

You’ve collaborated with and worked alongside your son, Hank. What does it mean to be honored with him?

It is special honor to work with my son Hank Willis Thomas and to know that he has been by my side since the day he was born. He watched me work on numerous projects – not complain when I worked long hours to help others.

 

What is your favorite book, film, and / or album about NYC?

Album – Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind”

Book – Langston Hughes “The Best of Simple”

Film – Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X”

 

Free-association—tell us the first word that comes to mind:

Art:

Voice

 

Bodega:

Safety

 

Culture:

Art

 

Object:

Photograph

 

Music:

Prince

 

Studio:

Freedom

 

Laundromat:

Clean

 

Neighborhood:

Restaurants

 

Beauty:

Power

 

Love:

My Son

 

Legacy:

Gordon Parks

 

Visit Dr. Deborah Willis’s artist website here.

 

TLP-Logo-Final2

Buy Your Tickets

Make A Donation
 
Find Out More About SOAPBOX 2017 Here