Thursday, December 15, 2016
Thursday, December 8, 2016
I am deeply hurt by this tragedy in Oakland. These artists these people did not deserve to die this way. I didn’t know anyone who died but just because of who they were and what they do, did not mean they had to live, work and play in such poor conditions. These people gathered there because there weren’t many other places to live and work. The reason why we call art a practice is because you have to do it over and over to get what you want out of it. But if you’re poor, “different” and your practice or work doesn’t cater to those in power or have influence, your options are limited. And we make the best out of those limitations. I’m sure that night was like any other night where they had an opportunity to share their work and have fun.
I’m writing this to myself, and particularly those who are not poor and not artists. I remember growing up in the 80’s where callousness was embedded in me. I grew up with that thing of if you were different in any way from your group or community you gave up your right for respect, education, mentorship and protection. I can’t help but think of those times, how it could have been me in that fire, and how this culture of cruelty laid the groundwork for this tragedy and the very real tragedy that is our housing system. As an artist and as someone who has worked in a housing non-profit, I can say that this kind of tragedy can happen anywhere and anytime. The availability for low-income and affordable housing for artists, the poor, working poor, ex-felons, the disabled and veterans is virtually non-existent. Opportunities for veterans have improved over the years but not for anyone else (in Chicago). Reports say the CHA is sitting on millions of dollars that could be used for vouchers or building new homes. This situation leaves people like me very vulnerable. Some stay with family or friends. Some get involved in shady rental deals and get swindled out of rent money by building owners and bogus landlords. Some squat and die in fires due to negligence because they’re just artists and they should have gotten a “real job”. For us it is a real job. Maybe our second or third but it is very real and most of us work very hard at it. Some of us get weeded out by HR, ED’s, curators, bookers, professors, teachers, elders, family, gatekeepers, gallery directors and critics, but we keep going. We make opportunities and spaces for ourselves. We don’t wait for someone to give us permission to do what we do, to hire us, book us or curate us. We deserve respect and protection for what we do. Why should we have to put our lives in danger just to do our art? We deserve nothing less than a right to fair housing.
Monday, December 5, 2016
These pieces were an important part of my artistic development and crucial for my recovery. At that time my work was inspired by writings from bell hooks, Cornel West, Greg Tate, Samuel R. Delaney, Ralph Ellison, Amiri Baraka and art from Carrie Mae Weems, Isaac Julien, Marlon Riggs, Felix Gozales-Torres and Paul D. Miller. However the problem was that my work hinged on confirming sexist, white supremacist, capitalist hegemony. Also this work was mostly seen by whites who were quick to chuckle, categorize and passive-aggressively dismiss my practice as about cultural theory and nostalgia. But my interests didn't strictly lie in illustrating or confirming this violence of sexism and consumerism done to the development of the black male identity. It was in the affirmative energy of Great Black Music of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, DJ Mixes of Larry Levan, the writings of Samuel R. Delaney, and the many improvised, experimental and electronic musicians I was listening to at the time. With sound, I was also able to create spaces with sound and objects that did not exploit black pain. Plus, there were a lot of young black artists who made better work about race anyway. I was especially interested in digital sound processing and field recording and how that lends itself to the affirmation of my existence as a black artist, the complexities of my subjectivity time and space. It was also a chance to use my own body as a performer / DJ who does not "serve" or "entertain". This change was not taken well in the grad program I attended. I was promptly put on probation until my last semester, was goaded in to fighting a tenured professor ( I didn't take the bait!) and local curators avoided me. But somehow I still showed and performed in the Bay Area and worked with some great people who are still friends today. But make no mistake, being yourself is a very dangerous thing as a black artist, it is very lonely, hard work and I have suffered dearly for this. I thank my friends and family for their support. I am truly blessed and would not be here if not for them.