This is the sixth installment of the VOX LACUNAE artist interview series. VOX LACUNAE features work by Sobia Ahmad, Sera Boeno, Marta Gutierrez, Nilou Kazemzadeh, Jason Kuo, Kim Llerna, and Yuli Wang.
Marta Gutierrez | Multimedia artist | Exhibiting in VOX LACUNAE from July 18 to August 22, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Rina Goldman
Can you tell me about yourself, where are you from, what inspired you to start creating art?
I was born in Colombia, South America. Since I was a child I loved drawing, painting and playing with clay. I was trained as an Architect and then moved to USA and got a BFA at The Corcoran School of Art. These multiple disciplines give me the tools to create my ‘Alternative Whimsical Universes’.
What drew you to the particular trees that you reference in your “Flora Exótica Americana” series?
Finding a theme for my series is important for my creative process. FLORA EXOTICA AMERICANA is an infinite source of inspiration and it is a subject where I can combine the beauty of our natural species with their names, creating pieces where words and visuals complement each other.
Yarumo or Yagrumo or Guarumo or Guarumbo, 2017. Wire and fiber sculptures.
The colors and patterns used in the sculptures are not necessarily true to life, what drew you to those materials?
The subjects for my series are just a starting point for inspiration. My art is in constant search for abstraction. Freedom is basic for my creative process.
What was your goal with these pieces?
The goal with my work is to create alternative whimsical universes. Research is important for my inspiration and there is always a story, a name or an experience behind each piece. Then comes a process of playing with line, color, shape and finding the right title. I obsess with one theme until several finished pieces create an interesting and fun experience for me, and hopefully for the viewers.
Do you see your art as a means to communicate with those who do not speak the same language as you? How does language affect the way you create art?
Art is a language on its own, a universal language because it does not need translation. There is a tendency of explaining art works with words, it is not really necessary to me. It makes me very happy as an artist when viewers react to my work, it does not matter if they get something different of what inspired me. Freedom of interpretation is important for me too.
Where do you see your art going from here? Are you going to continue bridging gaps with your art?
I want to continue creating my Alternative Universes but in a larger scale. I want to see my art work bigger and in public spaces.
Marta Gutierrez’s work is included in Vox Lacunae at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from July 18th to August 22nd, 2018.
For more information on Marta Gutierrez, visit http://www.martaluz.com/.
For more information on Vox Lacunae and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.
This is the fifth installment of the VOX LACUNAE artist interview series. VOX LACUNAE features work by Sobia Ahmad, Sera Boeno, Marta Gutierrez, Nilou Kazemzadeh, Jason Kuo, Kim Llerna, and Yuli Wang.
Nilou Kazemzadeh | Multimedia artist | Exhibiting in VOX LACUNAE from July 18 to August 22, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Rina Goldman
Tell me a bit about yourself, where are you from? How did you start creating art?
I was born and raised in Maryland by my immigrant Iranian parents. Since childhood, I always enjoyed artistic endeavors such as drawing random eligible writing on the wooden frame of my bed when I was probably around 6 or 7 years old. My parents also enrolled me in various art classes growing up at community art centers or Montgomery College. Besides those, I think what subconsciously lead me to creating art or being attracted to it was all the Persian art I grew up seeing and living with.
How did your work for VOX LACUNAE develop? Is it something you created for this show or had you previously been working with language and art?
I didn’t create the work specifically for VOX LACUNAE but when I saw the open call I knew my work would fit perfectly with the theme. The main focus of my work revolves around language and the meaning of things. When I was a student at the University of Maryland College Park I began to experiment with writing Farsi and translating it into art. Funny side story: I started incorporating Farsi calligraphy into my work when I had to take the language placement test at UMD. The first time I took it I was placed into intermediate Persian which was way above my understanding so I dropped out after the first class! I then made it my mission to test out of taking any Persian class. I began to read much more Farsi poetry and began to take the written words and repeating it on paper as a way of practicing, and that’s how style came into existence.
Within the exhibition, you have a collage, a carved pieces, an embossed pieces and an etching –that’s a wide variety of styles– what is your favorite to work with?
Now that you write it out, I do work with a lot of different materials and processes. I guess I enjoy seeing how the calligraphy is affected when it is incorporated into various materials or vice versa. Most of the work I produce is through printmaking which has so many different processes such as relief, intaglio, litho, and screen printing. I really enjoy experimenting and learning about new processes.
How does being able to speak a language other than English impact your artwork?
Farsi as a language is very poetic and expressive. The script that makes up farsi is also very free flowing and mysterious to me. Growing up in America I would always have to code-switch growing up. Switching from my American culture to my Persian culture. As a result, naturally, I became more accustomed to english and my American culture. When I write in English, I can immediately read what I wrote. In Farsi, I can’t do that, I still have to sound out each and every letter in order to read it. I can’t just look at a Farsi word and read it, I think that’s why I am attracted to writing in Farsi and not in English.
You use the geometric style of Kufic calligraphy when writing in Farsi within your artwork, what drew you to that style? Does it mean something to you?
This goes back to my interest in experimenting. While I was researching different calligraphy styles, Kufic calligraphy stood out to me because of how different it looked. It is characterized by its very geometric script. The writing is arranged like a maze, everything fits perfectly in a given boundary. Learning how to write in Kufi makes me feel like i’ve built yet another bridge between my two identities.
What do you wish for people (who do not know Farsi) to see when looking at your work?
I understand that the meaning of my work can be hard to understand, especially when the viewer cannot read Farsi or decipher the words. I would like viewers to take in the effect that I create with the calligraphy, and if i’ve done a good job of presenting the work, they will be able to feel the emotions I felt in the process. For an example, Sal-e Bad almost looks like a maze with no real exit point. It feels tight and suffocating with no open space. Release in contrast, is light and airy, the prints gently billow as they hang from the wall. The work allows for a moment of reflection and rest.
When creating Sal-e Bad (The Bad Year), why did you choose to do a blind embossing instead of a print? What does blind embossing represent to you?
Sal-e Bad was created after a difficult phase in my life. The poetry reads:
“The bad year, the windy year, the year of tears, the year of doubts, the year of long days” – Ahmad Shamlu
For this piece I took those words and arranged them in a repeating and mirrored Kufic style. By using this poem, which I related so deeply to at the time, helped me close a door on that chapter of my life. Through my work, the repeated writing, in a way has become a mode of personal healing. This leads me to explain why I chose to do a blind embossment instead of a inked print. When I was experimenting, I wanted to try doing a print with an exaggerated indentation. When I pulled the blind embossment off the block I was immediately taken by the light and shadow play. In certain light sources the calligraphy fully reveals itself to the viewer why in others, the print looks like a blank unused piece of paper. This alludes to the hidden struggles we go through throughout our lives. Sometimes these conflicts are physical and in view while some can be internal and unseen. The blind embossment was then the best chose in representing how I felt during that time.
Can you tell me a bit more about your piece Release? What drew you to create such a contradictory piece?
Release was made before all the other pieces, and was created in response to the 2016 Republican Primaries. This event opened my eyes to the very real distrust and prejudice pressed upon people of Middle Eastern background. Just like I state in the previous response, the prints were a way for me to reason and work through my issues and emotions. The poetry I used for this piece reads:
“You will not deserve the name of human, if you are indifferent of others pains.” -Saadi
The act of repeating these words endlessly over the surface of the plate allowed me the time to really think about what this poem meant to me. I learned that the poem is not just about the people I felt needed to hear this, but also my reaction to the things they said. How can I be setting myself above these people when I too was feeding into the hatred. So this poem really became a mantra for my growth as a person. I still have times when I let my emotions get the best of me, but this poem always comes to mind when necessary and I remember the meaning of the piece and that helps ground me.
How do you feel your use of language within your art works to fill a gap in our understanding of different cultures?
Growing up, I never really saw anything connected to my Persian culture outside of my home and family. I think it is extremely important to represent yourself and your culture to the outside world in order to demystify presumptions of one’s identity. I think including farsi calligraphy helps normalize Arabic looking text and imagery. I believe that most of the distrust and hatred stems from our fear of the unknown. From my own experience, i’ve found that being present and a proud middle eastern woman helps rewrite the age old stereotypes of my people and neighbors.
What inspires you to create art? Where do your ideas come from?
My inspiration comes from wanting to represent my rich culture as a way of honoring my ancestors and family. It’s a way of learning about myself and growing as a person. My ideas comes from my environment, things I read, images I see, my friends and family, artifacts I find around the house. Anything can potentially inspire the creation of work.
Where do you see your art going from here?
I have absolutely no idea! All I know is that creating art is an integral part of my life and I will continue to do it for a very long time!
Nilou Kazemzadeh’s work is included in Vox Lacunae at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from July 18th to August 22nd, 2018.
For more information on Nilou Kazemzadeh, visit http://www.niloukazemzadeh.com/.
For more information on Vox Lacunae and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.
This is the fifth installment of the capital lives artist interview series. capital lives features work by Bo Chen, Sydney Gray, Sarah O’Donoghue, Brea Soul, Christine Stoddard, and Nevada Taylor.
Sydney Gray | Photographer | Exhibiting in capital lives from May 30 to July 4, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Rina Goldman
Can you tell me a bit about yourself, where are you from, how did you end up in Washington D.C.?
I am originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia. I am a student at the George Washington University which brought me to Washington, D.C.. I started photography my sophomore year of high school but my passion for it really developed after I tore my ACL four times in 3.5 years and realized playing sports was no longer going to be in my future.
As a student at George Washington University, how does your environment affect your photography? Is there a direct correlation between the two?
Being a student at the George Washington University has put me in a different environment then I was used to. In high school I would always complain that there was nothing for me to take pictures of for photo class because the only things in walking distance were grass trees and houses. Now, being in the city there is a wealth of interesting subjects to photograph. The people, the architecture, the streets are all available to me with ease. But my favorite type of photos to take are portraits and consistently being surrounded by other students and friends makes portraits very accessible. It also does wonders for my creative process because things feel so much more attainable being in such an open and inviting environment.
Where do you find inspiration? What about photography inspires you?
In many ways I feel I still have yet to grasp my true inspiration. For now I enjoy exploring what I can do and learn through my camera. I feel I can really capture moments and places with my camera, but I can also capture people. The pictures that were on display for this gallery for instance, I took for my photography class. I love how I was able to pair the blurbs that the subjects wrote with the pictures to truly tell the audience about who they are.
In your work, you showcase the “true beauty” of black women, what effect does being a black woman have on who you choose to photograph?
In general, I am not picky about who I take photos of. I love to capture the essence of people from various races, nationalities and ethnicities. In fact, I hope to take photos of a more diverse group of people in the future. With that being said, as a black female I feel a sense of attachment to other black females. In a way taking pictures of other black females is an extension of myself. My favorite feeling is when my subjects can truly see themselves as a strong and beautiful person no matter how they felt about themselves previously. I know that through my photographs I am changing people’s perception of themself, whether it is for a brief second or the rest of their lives I know in my heart I am making a small positive difference in their lives.
Can you elaborate on the process of taking these photos, particularly Confidence from Behind?
Each photograph and scene had its own creative process associated with it. Confidence from Behind is probably one of my favorite photos from the grouping. It is of my roommate and it was actually taken in our dorm room. I knew we were in a safe space so I wanted to take the opportunity to push the boundaries a little. I wanted to display confidence and many times that goes hand in hand with body image so I figured let’s show some skin. On a whim I asked my roommate if she would feel comfortable asking pictures with just a jacket on and no shirt underneath it. To my surprise she said yes almost instantly. Once we finished taking the pictures I was so excited to show her the ones I really liked but she didn’t want to look at any of them. I had to push and repeat how great they looked before she finally gave in and looked at them. In that moment I was definitely struck by how my project could really help people see themselves in a new way.
How are these women an example of D.C. today?
When I think of DC I think so people coming from so many different places. The group of women that I took photos of represent various backgrounds. The backgrounds of those represented in the gallery include, Kenyan from Princeton, New Jersey, half Jamaican from Steven City, Virginia, and Nigerian but lived in Ohio, Texas and most recently Virginia. This just proves that the people that live in DC tend to have very diverse backgrounds and many times aren’t originally from DC itself. That is just one thing I love about living in this city, I have met people from and learned so much about various cultures that I never knew about before.
Do the flowers you’ve incorporated into two of the pieces have any specific meaning?
The idea behind the photos with the flowers was to parallel natural hair with nature.
Some of the pieces are accompanied by quotes from the models, how did that come about?
Originally I was not going to do this. My photo professor had suggested it early on in a general setting but I had not thought about it again until a couple of days before the project was due. After looking at all the photos as a whole I realized how strongly they oozed black beauty and Black Girl Magic. At that point I thought back to my professor’s suggestion to have quotes that accompany the photographs and I thought having my friends speak to their experience as a black female would bring the photos to life. The quotes that my friends provided exceeded my expectations. They ranged, some spoke on personal struggles, others took a humorous approach but together I believe they really embodied what it was like to be a black female.
Do you have a favorite piece, or one that was most exciting for you to shoot?
My favorite picture was probably confidence from behind and I would love to reshoot photos like that with better lighting and equipment. I also love the simplicity of Lisa. There also a few that were not in the gallery but part of the full project that I loved as well.
What camera did you use for the portrait photography displayed in capital lives?
I use a Nikon D750.
Are there any future projects in the works?
Currently I do not have any big projects in the works. I hope to brainstorm ideas and maybe carry them out during the summer. I have a list of places I want to have fun photoshoots at around the District however. I am also studying abroad next semester so I am looking forward to the beautiful photographs I know I will take overseas.
Finally, the last question we are asking all the contributing artists is, what lies behind the image of power?
Power can be expressed in so many different ways and it isn’t even all through people. If the subject is a person I believe power comes from within that person and it will exude from the photograph. But if the photograph is not of a person then I believe power comes from the audience. Different things make different people feel power. Overall, I do believe the right balance of power in a key to confidence and success.
Gray’s work is included in capital lives at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from May 30 through July 3, 2018.
For more information on Sydney Gray, visit sydneyellephotos.wixsite.com/photos.
For more information on capital lives and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery
This is the fourth installment of the capital lives artist interview series. capital lives features work by Bo Chen, Sydney Gray, Sarah O’Donoghue, Brea Soul, Christine Stoddard, and Nevada Taylor.
Christine Stoddard | Multimedia artist | Exhibiting in capital lives from May 30 to July 4, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Rina Goldman
Can you tell me about yourself, where you come from and where you are now?
I was born to a Salvadoran mother and a New Yorker father in Arlington, Virginia just across the river from Washington, D.C. I lived there until I graduated from high school. Then I spent a year in the cornfields of Iowa before moving to Richmond, Virginia where I lived off and on for five years. Scholarships allowed me to study in France, Scotland, and Mexico during my Richmond days. I moved back to Northern Virginia for a couple of years, bouncing around Arlington, Alexandria, and Falls Church. Today I live in Brooklyn with my husband, David. Though I live in Ocean Hill, I dart across all five boroughs for art exhibitions, readings, residencies, and other events. Even though I’m based in New York City now, I’m still involved in the Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Richmond art scenes. The DMV will always be home. My husband and I still have family in Virginia and Maryland. In fact, my husband’s side even has a few UMD grads. (Go Terps!)
Right now, I work for the Art Deco Society of New York and run Quail Bell Magazine. I am also completing my art planning fellowship with the 2018 Reclaimed Lands Conference for the Freshkills Park Alliance at NYC Parks as a CUNY fellow.
You obviously have a connection to the DC area as seen in your works, Autumnal Death and “Thirty Pounds in Three Years”, how did growing up so close to our nation’s capital influence your work?
Growing up in Arlington heightened my understanding of history and politics. I saw firsthand that governments are made up of people. Almost everyone I knew as a child had parents who worked for the federal government or companies that served the government. Al Gore and Colin Powell came to my public elementary and high schools simply because my classmates’ parents worked for them. My proximity to D.C. meant I had personal connections to so many national events and figures. The September 11th terrorist attack on D.C. happened in my hometown: Arlington, where the Pentagon is actually located (not D.C.!)My senior year of high school, I interviewed First Lady Laura Bush for a feature on children’s literacy for Teen Ink, a national literary magazine.
When I go home to visit my parents and husband’s family, I still feel a strong connection to national politics. It’s not always for good, of course. I went home to visit my family for Easter and stayed in Arlington for a few days. Since one of those days was a weekday, just about everyone I knew had to go to work, so I accepted a gig to make extra money. Well, guess what gig this Arlington girl accepted? A mascot handler for the White House Easter Egg Roll! I wasn’t happy to see Trump speak that day (or ever), but I was happy that I could help bring smiles to the faces of thousands of children. Plus, I have so many strange little anecdotes from the experience. Surely those details will wiggle their way into my art somehow. You can take an Arlington girl out of Arlington, but you can’t take the Arlington out of an Arlington girl.
How did it feel to photograph a place that means so much to Americans, while representing a place of sorrow and loss? Was there a specific feeling you were going for with the photo collage? What drew you to the title Autumnal Death?
I took the original photographs that I used for Autumnal Death in 2012 while visiting Arlington National Cemetery for documentary work. Then I assembled the images into a photo collage in 2015. The initial piece came about simply because I was revisiting folders of digital photos and scans on my computer and wanted to see what I could revive in Photoshop. I made several different printed versions of Autumnal Death in 2016 and 2017, including printing on canvas. It wasn’t until this year that I printed the work on paper and added pencil, pencil, and marker accents.
Photographing Arlington National Cemetery conjured all kinds of emotions. Of course it’s a place of sorrow and loss, but it’s also a place of reverence and even celebration. It’s full of tradition and people who are proud to visit the graves of their family and friends. ANC is also another national landmark that’s located in my hometown. In that sense, it feels very ordinary to me. I can’t being to count how many times I passed ANC as a kid. It was just more roadside scenery. That’s one of the reasons why I layered the headstones in the image. Remarkably for a place of such national prominence, there’s a certain banality and repetition to ANC for me. When you grow up with something, it’s quite easy to downplay or even forget it. You just don’t have the life experience to contextualize yet, no matter how book-smart you are.
The title Autumnal Death was fairly literal for me. I took the photos in the fall when the leaves were ablaze. The whole cemetery looked like it was shrouded in crimson. It was beautiful, illuminating, and ominous all at once.
Your work touches on some very intense topics, especially “Thirty Pounds in Three Years”, was there something specific that provoked you to present this poem at this point in time?
“Thirty Pounds in Three Years” is a work of fiction. It’s based loosely on family lore, as well as the story of a woman I interviewed for an article I wrote for a feminist website. My personal feelings and experience influenced the work, as well. Like many people I knew, I was unusually sluggish after Trump was elected. I ate too much, spent too much time in bed, and left my apartment as little as possible (working for home made that all too easy.) I got a lot of writing and art-making done, but I was not taking advantage of the fact that I lived in New York City. It was hard to enjoy anything. Too many activities and pastimes felt frivolous. Eventually I got out of my rut and delved into my local community. It was not easy, but I think anyone who enjoys relative comfort in life has a duty to give back to others. If more Americans cultivated a generosity of spirit in the first place, Trump never would’ve gotten elected.
In your artist statement, you mentioned layers – both physical layers, like collage, and metaphorical layers pertaining to womanhood and femininity – can you elaborate?
Stories and interrogation drive my work. I use photography and video to explore how the digital age has both empowered and silenced women, immigrants, people of color, and other marginalized voices. For every #metoo or #blacklivesmatter movement, there are trolls producing opposing hashtags. My process is one in which analogue meets digital, mimicking how our real lives and online lives overlap. I make sculptures and paintings and then photograph them to merge with screenshots from social media. I scan clippings from books, magazines, and newspapers and composite them with photographs of gutted electronics. I take video footage in my neighborhood and cut it with video footage downloaded from free websites.
Exploring feminine power and energy is integral to all that I create as an artist, both online and offline. I feel that energy and power everywhere in nature, which is one of the reasons why I am drawn to flora and fauna imagery in my work. Just as the digital age has failed to truly empower marginalized people, it has failed to solve our environmental challenges. A culture of technological obsolescence and a culture of disposability go hand in hand. We must foster a culture that allows all people and nature to thrive.
Where do you see your art going from here? Any more projects in the works?
At the moment, I just want to take it project by project. I have some firm ideas about what I want to create, but I’m still in an experimental phase. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to go back to school. I just finished my first year at The City College of New York (CUNY), where I’m pursuing an M.F.A. in Digital & Interdisciplinary Art Practice. Everyday is a new chance to try something and possibly fail in a supportive, academic environment where I’m supposed to learn. Learning often means failing and starting again. Since I’m in this experimental stage, it’s also a good time for me to try out residencies. I had completed residencies before coming to grad school, with my longest and most intense one ending just before the academic year began. I was the artist-in-residence at Annmarie Sculpture Garden, a Smithsonian affiliate in Southern Maryland. Honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life and set me on my current path. I want my work to be playful while investigating important issues across disciplines. Artists are also researchers and communicators.
Right now, I have an artist residency at Brooklyn Public Library’s Eastern Parkway branch in Crown Heights through mid-July. I’m making sculptures and assemblages out of found and recycled materials with the public and then using them in photo and video shoots. The residency will culminate in an exhibition on July 14th. On June 23rd, I have a mini residency at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum in Woodstock, New York. They have a program called Habitat for Artists that’s kind of funky. Artists work in a temporary, 6’x6’ studio installed in a public space and invite the community to watch them or even create a project with them. After I finish up at Eastern Parkway Library, I’m headed to Laberinto Projects in El Salvador as a visiting artist for a couple of weeks. I have some ideas for a photography and writing project in mind based upon exploring where my mother lived during the country’s civil war. We will see what comes to fruition. In August, I will begin a 6-month residency with Staten Island MakerSpace, which is partnering with organizations like the Small Business Development Center at the College of Staten Island and the NYC Business Solutions office to help artists get their ideas off the ground. The details for this opportunity are still being solidified.
The ongoing project—at least until I graduate—is my M.F.A. thesis. I don’t have to solidify my thesis quite yet, but it’s certainly on my mind. I’ve been researching and making smaller projects as prototypes. One is an interactive electronic book called girl with camera. You can view it here. (See if you can find the hidden elements!) We will see where my art projects take me when I graduate next May.
You wrote a book, Water for the Cactus Woman, can you tell me about that process and a little bit about the book itself?
I have always expressed myself through both words and images. Thus, creative writing is a strong component of my artistic practice. After successfully publishing multiple chapbooks—Jaguar in the Cotton Field (Another New Calligraphy), Mi Abuela, Queen of Nightmares (Semi-perfect Press)and Ova (Dancing Girl Press) are a few of my favorites—I felt confident someone would publish a full-length collection of mine. That someone was Spuyten Duyvil Publishing in New York City. I was floored that the publishing team suggested the book include my visual work, which was something I hadn’t proposed or even considered. The manuscript flowered into a whole other work once I began curating images and pairing them with poems. I’m very proud of the final result, which recently placed in the Danielle and Larry Nyman Family Project Award competition at The City College of New York (CUNY). The official award letter stated that “the committee members unanimously expressed their admiration for the beautiful interplay between word and image as well as for the haunting themes of family love and loss woven throughout.” The Nyman Award recognizes creative and research projects that examine the complexity of family dynamics, which is exactly what Water for the Cactus Woman attempts to do.
I think Moonchild Magazine founder Nadia Gerassimenko describes Water for the Cactus Woman quite beautifully: “Water for the Cactus Woman is an uncannily familiar story about first unrequited love: that of madre absent and grieving and that of abuela prematurely gone but hauntingly present as torrential silence and forlornness—and that of many madres/abuelas before and that of many madres/abuelas after. Water for the Cactus Woman is ‘a coyote’s last cry before the hunter’s bullet’ is ‘a drippy desert watercolor’ is ‘a dewdrop of hope.’ It is a cactus split spilling nectar, desert oasis blooming after monsoon, the sun finally shining its light on you. It is the primal thirst to love and be loved. It is the hopeful courage that self-love could fill all the heart chambers after all.” Ms. Gerassimenko also published my electronic chapbook, The Silhouette Woman, which also peels away the onion skin from matriarchal relationships.
Are you planning on writing any more books?
Yes, I have and I will! For me, it’s more of a matter of getting what I’ve written published—the plight of writers everywhere. Fortunately, I do have a few books coming out this year and next year. First up is The Tale of the Clam Ear (AngelHouse Press), which is a narrative poetry chapbook. The book is about the stories a young woman born with an ear deformity tells herself to feel powerful in this dark ocean of a world. Another book is Naomi and the Reckoning (About Editions), a novella. Naomi is about a 25-year-old woman raised in a conservative Catholic household who has trouble consummating her marriage. Yet another is Belladonna Magic (Shanti Arts Publishing), which is similar in format to Water for the Cactus Woman in that it contains poems and photo collages, but the content is completely different! The themes are different, the narrative is different, the images are different. Another title I have coming out is The Book of Quails (Clare Songbirds Publishing House), which is a children’s book about quails. It was illustrated by the talented Sami Cronk, a fellow VCUarts graduate. Luminous Press will be releasing my prose chapbook, Things I Do Well That Nobody Will Ever Pay Me To Do. I think the title says it all. The book is as funny as it is sad. Then there’s Desert Fox by the Sea, a collection of short stories coming out from Hoot ‘n’ Waddle.
I’m thrilled about all of these releases. Over the past year and a half, I’ve been publishing myself to submit my manuscripts and it’s been working. I’m hopeful that more of my manuscripts will find homes. I have a couple of other titles that are under contract, so we will see what happens.
As a final question, pertaining to the theme of this exhibition, to you, what lies behind the image of power?
What lies behind the image of power is imbalance. I’m going to link you to the artist statement for The Orgasm Archives, a project I created during my first semester at City College. You can learn more about my thoughts and creations related to heteropatriarchal power dynamics here.
Stoddard’s work is included in capital lives at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from May 30 through July 3, 2018.
For more information on Christine Stoddard, visit www.worldofchristinestoddard.com.
For more information on capital lives and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery
This is the third installment of the capital lives artist interview series. capital lives features work by Bo Chen, Sydney Gray, Sarah O’Donoghue, Brea Soul, Christine Stoddard, and Nevada Taylor.
Brea Soul | Multimedia artist, photographer, and designer in the Maryland DC area | Exhibiting in capital lives from May 30 to July 4, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Grace DeWitt
Can you tell me a little about yourself? Where did you grow up, and where are you based now?
I am a multimedia artist and photographer who is dedicated to highlighting new, blossoming and vibrant artists, and the cultures of minorities in Maryland and D.C. I am originally from Trappe, Maryland, a small town located on the Eastern Shore. Since moving away to attend University of Maryland, College Park, I am now based out of College Park, MD.
You graduated from UMCP with your Bachelors this past December. What did you study, and what are you up to now?
I studied Studio Art with a minor in Art History. I currently work as the in-house graphic designer for Brentwood Arts Exchange, a contemporary art gallery in Maryland, and as a photo contributor for Capitol Standard Magazine, a magazine for young professionals in the Washington, D.C. area. I hope to move in the direction of multimedia production and directing.
Could you briefly describe your artistic practice?
I always felt like I didn’t belong, but in reality, relatable representation just lacked around me. So, in my photography and webseries, Soul Series, I choose to capture the essence of a person’s true identity and natural lifestyle. I seek modern representation of African Americans and other minority groups because I want to highlight the identities and stories of those that are still often overlook or ignored. My goal is to encourage the world to observe these races and cultures closely and then to connect in a way they have not before. I love working with color, natural lighting, composition/framing and movement. My influences include Gordon Parks and Roy Decarava, music, and cultural relativism.
What is your personal experience with D.C. at this moment? To what extent do you have ties to this city?
My personal experience with D.C. comes from my relations to its people and its culture. There is a renaissance happening in D.C and around connecting parts of Maryland that most are not ignoring, but rather, overlooking. Knowing this and a lot of the young upcoming talent that is based out of DC or close to it, I believe it’s a job of mine to constantly capture the culture: whether it’s related to art, music, fashion, or simply the lifestyles that DC produces.
How would you describe D.C., or the D.C. vibe, to people who have never been to the city?
D.C is a traditional place with a lot of history. When you visit D.C. and learn more than what is shown on TV and through articles, you learn about all of the rich culture D.C. produces. D.C. consists of a lot of creative activity, networking, and opportunity. D.C. is not as big as NY but D.C. consists of endless industries and because it’s smaller, you have plenty of room to connect, learn and grow here.
Let’s talk about your photographs in capital lives. Do you know any of the subjects personally? Were they all taken in the district?
I only know two of the subjects personally and the others I connected to through networking. This may come to you as a surprise, but only one photo was taken actually in the district. Can you guess which one? The other three were taken relatively close to Washington, D.C., in places such as Hyattsville and College Park.
Do you consider these images to be portraits of individuals, or a more collective observation of a regional city culture?
It’s hard to answer that question because it’s technically both. Although these images are simply portraits of residents/performers of the area, the people involved are important to the creative history of D.C. at this specific time. One is an upcoming wordsmith and poet who is known for his skill all over the city. The model in Liberation represents the Latino community that is being directly affected from the current state of the United States and its presidency. Kweku Collins, is a rapper/singer performed at an annual D.C. festival called, All Things Go.
I understand that the prints exhibited in capital lives are part of a larger series. What is your intent for that series?
My intent is to constantly portray the lives existing in Washington D.C. and the surrounding area, and create a series that shows who is living in D.C. and what they are doing. Basically, I want to document the current times and culture.
What was the reasoning behind the titles for Dazed 1 and Overtime 2? Were these planned images, or candid?
Dazed 1’s title stems from the expression presented by the subject throughout the entire photoshoot. A woman is shown wandering aimlessly and although she is giving direct eye contact, one can assume that there is something on her mind. Something has her distracted or stuck.
Overtime 2’s title comes from personal background of the subject and plays off of that narrative. The subject was a UMD dropout and then after a year, decided to return back to UMD. Throughout the photos from this photoshoot, he can be found in a classroom, outside on campus and walking through hallways. Wherever he travels, he is focused on the task at hand. In Overtime 2, he is seen with a black notebook and pen on campus with an alarming look. I like to believe this photograph embodies when a lightbulb goes off for a person and that usually happens after a while of focusing on a certain subject.
Can you explain what’s going on in All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2 and Liberation 1?
In All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2, Kweku Collins had just finished performing and starting a meet and greet. I wanted to capture his presence while meeting his fans. He is normally shown on a stage and singing so I thought it would be cool to get another perspective of him and his style. Even while not on stage, he kept the same aura and presence of light and joy with him.
In Liberation 1, I was on a mission to portray a new-found sense of freedom. I selected an aspiring model and did a photoshoot at an isolated hotel. The location was chosen for the narrative of one running away or being forced to be on the move. During the subject’s time alone, she reflects. So Liberation 1 portrays the outcome of her journey when she has finally come to a point where she is prepared and ready to take on whatever is next.
Music culture seems to be an intertwined part of some of your photography work. What part of the D.C. music scene do you interact with in your photography, and do you feel that your photography is meant to bring attention to or comment on that scene?
I find myself in rap and R&B spaces within Washington, D.C. because that genre of music is a heavy part of my own personal culture and I know more people within that space than other genres. However, I hope to break into other music scenes because although Rap and R&B is special to me, my goal is to capture creatives and artists of all sorts of backgrounds. There are a lot of talents out there and I want to capture as many as I can. I guess I just started off in a familiar space. My photography, in those scenes, serves as a way to capture timeless moments that the people never get back; but through my photography, they will never forget it.
What do you hope viewers take away from your photographs, perhaps in conversation with the other works in capital lives as a whole?
When people visit capital lives, I simply hope to introduce them to people and/or cultures that are blooming here in the area and start a conversation there. Media coverage and photo documentation about Washington, D.C., is usually centered on politics, protests, sports and or fancy landmarks. I want to introduce people to people. Simple. Real people that you can learn from, bond with and or help in some type of way. I hope that in combination with the other photographs from the other artists, visitors will get a complete 360 realistic perspective of DC. For example, Bo Chen successfully and effectively captured people protesting on the streets of D.C. while my photos show the residents of D.C. Having this imagery together shows a complete image of the time right now in D.C.
Which of your photographs in capital lives do you connect with the most?
I connect with them all but if I had to choose one, I would pick All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2 because the imagery involved is someone of color and a flower. In my opinion, a sunflower embodies a source of light. Within my photography, but more importantly within my life, I try to radiate positive energy and show others love.
What camera did you use to shoot the images in capital lives, and what are you shooting with now?
Since gifted, I have been shooting my photography through a Nikon D3400 and it’s been amazing to learn and practice on. I have plans to upgrade in the near future, either to another Nikon or Sony.
You’re also working on a webshow called Soul Series. Can you talk about the project and goals for the show moving forward?
Soul Series is an original web show that follows me, a 22-year-old spirited artist from Maryland, as I navigate throughout the DMV/DC area interviewing other artists and creatives. In season one, Brea comes across an illustrator, a fashion brand and one painter. Season two involves more musicians: ranging from a music group, a disc jockey and percussionist. The goal for the show is to constantly discover and highlight talents, in this area, who are steadfast in their skill whether its related to visual arts, music and or fashion. The biggest goal for this project is to get the show picked up by a local production company or studio, in hopes to reach a bigger audience, which could result in income, connections, and exposure for the artists and creatives interviewed.
Any future shows or projects that you would like to promote here?
Through my photography and webshow, I meet a lot of artists who are so fresh in my mind. I thought about a show I would love to curate even at the Stamp Gallery, involving a showcase of artwork by the people I have interviewed and will meet. This project would provide opportunity for those creatives to have a professional chance to exhibit their talented work.
We’ll close with a question that powered the creation of capital lives. In your own words, what do you feel lies behind the image of power?
The image of power is in direct correlation to the person that produces that image. For me, the power is in the people and that’s why it is important for me to capture D.C.’s people. People fighting for rights and succeeding in their individual lives is power to me, so I choose to show that.
Soul’s work is included in capital lives at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from May 30 through July 3, 2018.
For more information on Brea Soul, visit www.breasoul.com.
For more information on capital lives and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery
This is the first installment of the (Sub)Urban interview series. (Sub)Urban features work by Amze Emmons, Yoonmi Nam, Benjamin Rogers, Nick Satinover, Christine Buckton Tillman, and Sang-Mi Yoo.
Matthew McLaughlin | Artist, Professor | Curator of (Sub)Urban from October 30 through December 16, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Grace DeWitt
Let’s start with some history. I understand that you’re a professor here, at the University of Maryland, College Park. Where did you grow up, where have you studied, and what brought you to this campus?
I grew up in Greenbelt, MD, just down the road from College Park and the University of Maryland. I received my BFA in Fine Art from Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL and my MFA in Printmaking from Arizona State University. I became connected with UMD after meeting Professor Justin Strom at an opening and his inviting me to the campus to meet with Professor Richardson, the Chair of the Art Department. A few months later, I was contacted about my interest in teaching foundations courses for the department.
Could you talk a little bit about the curatorial process behind (Sub)Urban? Is this your first curated show? How did the exhibiting artists come to your awareness?
(Sub)Urban is my curatorial debut and I’m quite happy with its reception by the local community. My curatorial process has a strong connection with my personal interests and areas of research for my own artistic practice. My own work focuses on the human relationship to its environment, mainly focusing on suburban and urban spaces and our alterations. So for this exhibition, I was interested in bringing together artists I admire for their practice and their conceptual exploration of similar subjects to my own.
Some of these artists are friends I have gained since graduate school, like Benjamin Rogers, who went to ASU with me, and Amze Emmons, who I met through printmaking conference events. The others have been on my radar through the suggestion of fellow artists, conference exhibitions, and Instagram.
How do you feel your word choice in the show title connects to ideas about suburban and urban spaces?
I think my show title reflects on the connection that urban and suburban spaces have, even though many try to deny it. Whether the connection is through the white flight of the 1960s or the overlapping cultural connections of television, music, etc, these two spaces that try to be separate have a strong relationship, and I wanted the title to reflect that.
It seems that you provided the (Sub)Urban artists with a certain level of exhibitory freedom while curating this show. Did the decision to work in this way create any challenges for you?
The only challenge that came from this freedom was the challenge of bringing all the work together in a comprehensive exhibition, once I knew exactly what I was going to receive. When I contacted each artist, I had some specific ideas in mind, but knew there would need to be some flexibility because of availability. I have run into this issue with my own work and having it in multiple exhibitions close together, so I understood the hassle of giving them very specific requests versus generalities. Yes, there may have been a print or piece that I would have preferred, but if it was designated for another exhibition first, I was happy to get another from the same series.
You’ve mentioned in person that your practice exists in the same conceptual conversation as many of the works in (Sub)Urban. To what extent did your artistic practice play a role in the curatorial process of this show?
My personal practice and conceptual interests had a massive role in the curatorial process for the exhibition. As I mentioned earlier, all the artists in the exhibition are people I admire and have followed, in one way or another, for some time. Just as researchers in other fields read articles by colleagues at other institutions, artists pay attention to those creating art in similar conceptual and visual avenues to know what is being explored already and how it might inform their own work.
This show covers a variety of media, often within individual artists’ practices. Was it important to you to display, say, sculpture from self-described printmakers, or prints from self-described sculptors? Or did this element to the show come about organically?
This element of the exhibition came about organically as a whole, but was more specific for each artist. My intention in requesting some of Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded sculptures was not to specifically present sculptures created by an artist traditionally trained in printmaking, but to show work that I found compelling and interesting for its conceptual and material ideas. That the exhibition has installation and sculptural works by artists with MFAs in printmaking and drawing, alongside their more traditional works, came about when I brought all the works together and realized what I had done.
Were there any subtler themes, phrases, or concepts not marketed with the show that you either intended to visualize in (Sub)Urban, or found yourself revisiting as you compiled the show?
Nothing that I intended or found before hand, but upon installation, I made some connections between some of the work that I hadn’t previously. There was a subtle theme that questioned the reality of urban and suburban spaces through the reality of Yoonmi, Christine, and Amze’s sculptural pieces. Each of these artists made work that re-created elements of urban and suburban spaces and life, but with materials that alter the audience’s interaction with them. Specifically considering Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded sculptural series, the two in the exhibition have such a life-like quality people easily think the artist is displaying actual takeout bags and containers, but once they approach the work, the reality of the material nature of the sculptures immediately alters their relationship with it. This subtle switch brings in larger questions for the audience about their relationship with their own environments.
In your own words, what happens in terms of the viewing experience when elements of the suburbs are taken out of context, like in Amze’s Street Life Flat Pack series?
To me, when elements of urban and suburban spaces are taken out of context there is a sense of importance that is typically glossed over when seen on the street, but also the viewer is exposed to the item and forced to interact with and consider it from a perspective they had not considered before. Especially when this is taken to the next level, by an artist re-presenting the known item in a new material context, as with Amze’s Street Life Flat Pack and Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded series.
It feels like Christine’s Clay Paper Chain comes from a different corner of the suburban experience. Could you touch on your intent in including her work in (Sub)Urban, or the area you feel that her work covers in a show that covers so much about the suburbia as we know it?
I chose to invite Christine because I felt her work touched on a more interior connection with the suburban experience, similarly to Benjamin and Nick’s works. Christine is a mom and a school teacher; I felt both works spoke to that experience and its personal nature, while also relating to Yoonmi and Amze’s works through the material nature of each and allowing the viewer to question both the reality of the artwork, but also question the idea it’s presenting.
Would you consider (Sub)Urban to be a critique of suburban or urban spaces and/or their social purpose?
No, I consider (Sub)Urban to be more of a survey of urban and suburban spaces, the concepts that we apply to them, and how we relate to each environment. I look at the exhibition as a tool to expose the audience to new ideas and perspectives of spaces they know, maybe rather well, and try to engage the viewers in re-thinking their own relationship with these environments.
This show is one of few in recent history at the Stamp Gallery that features multiple artists who collectively, and vastly, span across the U.S., and even includes some who work from international backgrounds and influences. What was your intention in curating a show here that comes from so many regions?
I wanted to expose the student body to a larger idea of the art being created in the country, and I wanted a greater representation of the work being created around the concept of the exhibition. The suburban and urban experience may be considered more universally understood, but there are subtle differences from regionally specific traits that affect the culture of suburbs and urban spaces around the country. I felt an exhibition of artists that spanned a larger swatch of the country would give a better overall interpretation of the suburban/urban experience to the audience.
I also prefer to see exhibitions that bring a more varied group of artists when considering their location and background. An exhibition of local artists on a specific concept or theme can have repetitive elements that make it only relatable to that region, while an exhibition like this can connect to a large contingency of the population.
A connection within (Sub)Urban that has fascinated me is the many ways that the suburban experience is outwardly homogenized, and yet remains internally idiosyncratic. Has this show, and seeing these artists’ work all together, expanded your perspective of suburban and urban experiences in any way?
Not really, as my own work has been examining and reconsidering the nature of these spaces through those idiosyncratic characteristics that many others gloss over. But it has expanded my perspective on how these ideas can be explored, and thus it is beginning to form new ideas on approaching my own artistic practice.
The exhibition vinyl in the Stamp Gallery contains two quotes: “This world is but a canvas to our imagination” (Henry David Thoreau), and “For to Thoreau the significant relationship is not that between [hu]man and [hu]man; it is the relationship between [hu]mans and [their] environment” (JB Jackson). Could you share some insight about your inclusion of these quotes in the show?
The JB Jackson quote was the main one I wanted to use for the wall text, but I felt it would be a little hard to understand without a little context about Thoreau. So I searched for a Thoreau quote that would give the best general insight into his thinking that could be expanded upon by the JB Jackson quote.
JB Jackson is a writer who, from the 1950s forward, focused on writing about the American landscape and the development of urban and suburban spaces. He greatly influenced the development of contemporary cultural landscape studies.
When someone walks into (Sub)Urban, what do you hope a person will grasp from the show?
I hope they find the humor in the work, the intrigue in the material use of some pieces, but overall, gain a fresh perspective on suburban and urban spaces.
What is one thing you have learned from curating this show?
Solid respect for curators and gallerists who do this for a living. To come up with one exhibition theme, coordinate artists and the shipping of their work and then lay it all out is one thing, but to do it over and over again. Wow.
To close, is there anything else you’d like to promote here? Any current or upcoming shows you’re participating in, either as artist or curator?
I have a few new ideas for other curatorial exhibitions, but currently, I’m focusing on a residency to get a lot of work completed.
McLaughlin is the curator of (Sub)Urban in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from October 30 through December 16, 2017.
For more information on Matthew McLaughlin, visit http://www.matthewtmclaughlin.com/.
For more information on (Sub)Urban visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.