I create art because it helps me make order out of the world’s chaos and shuts out the media’s racket – the endless video loops of drowned babies and unending alerts of yet another unarmed black man shot dead. Mark making is more than a distraction from news; it is also my way of making meaning and dealing with the social justice issues I address in my teaching practice.
For many years my art practice included large mixed media paintings, installations and performance pieces focusing on slavery and racism. Now in what appears to be a radical departure from earlier work, my visual art has taken on an experimental, conceptual quality. My materials include scraps from my personal and family history, mixed with the junk mail circulars and other throwaways that flood my world. These discards hold the traces of my memory, but the artworks are more than personal narratives. They symbolize the injustices against “disposable” people. Hence, rather than a departure from earlier work, this newest work is part of a natural evolution.
These mash-ups begin with a light wash of watercolor or an acrylic monotype, which I set aside until just the right found objects appear. Then I create new papers out of junk mail. The painted and scrunched advertising circulars become multicolored, textured papers. I hang them to dry and let them imprint on my consciousness while I gather and consider other scraps for assembling. Later – often much later – I sew fragments of those wrinkled and torn papers onto snippets of fabric and arrange them onto monotypes or watercolors.
I manipulate the amoeba-like pieces that shape-shift into whatever my imagination conjures at the moment. The stitches become lines on the drawing plane. Each piece of art is a palimpsest; layers of meaning are coded there. The shards of my mother’s perfume bottles, the lace and threads from her sewing box, remnants of fabric I remember as curtains or a baby dress mix it up with the detritus of my everyday life.
The threads of my personal narrative blend with the untold stories of those who have been too easily discarded. These fragments of cast-offs form my personal aesthetic: messy, imperfect and beautiful. Some of my new art is representational; most is not. All of my art reflects my passion for the discards, the marginal, the scrapped. I transform them all. I understand it only in retrospect. They are a part of my created world where nothing is lost, where transformation is possible.
Writing and performance are integral to my art practice. In most exhibitions, my creative partner and I include spoken word or readers’ theater pieces that accompany the visual art. I have been most influenced by contemporary artists like Ann Hamilton, who worked with fabric, threads, water, crushed powdered pigments, and a variety of other media to make statements about civic responsibility — and irresponsibility. Ana Mendieta, a Cuban American sculptor, painter and performance artist who left silhouettes of her body – traces of herself – in nature is another powerful influence on my work.
My hope is that viewers will respond to my work with an understanding that a great deal lies beneath the surface.