MoMA inspiration

I spent my last full day in New York visiting the Museum of Modern Art. What a great way to lead up to my departure and beginning this project. I was especially inspired by the exhibit Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960-1980. Artists use subtle and not-so-subtle visual alterations to tell stories. 

  
 In his piece “Memorial,” Luis Camnitzer digitally altered a telephone book to insert names of those who disappeared during the military dictatorship in Uruguay. At first glance, it seems to just be a telephone book. What does it mean, to have the names of those who disappeared between 1973-1985 inserted alongside other names that were originally in the telephone book? Is this a way of remembering them? Or forgetting them again? 

  

Mangelos (Dimitrije Bašicevic) | Manifest de la relation | 1976. What statement does a washed out globe with text on it make? What does global communication look like? How can words cross boundaries like countries? 

 

In her piece “Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart,” Kara Walker uses 18th century cut-paper silhouette. She transforms this traditional art form into one that tells a story that is more often than not ignored due to the uncomfortable process of acknowledging stereotypes, old and new, and the stories of marginalized and oppressed groups of people. 

  
The placement of pop-culture images makes bold statements. When I saw Love by Marisol, I immediately began to think about themes of addiction, love vs. lust, what is the connection between a blow job and Coca Cola, desire, control…all because of the placement of a coke bottle and the title of her work.

 
Doris Salcedo’s piece, Atrabilious, really stood out to me. ‘Atrabiliarios (Atrabilious) was conceived in response to testimony the artist gathered from relatives and loved ones of those who disappeared during the Colombian Civil War, an armed conflict that began in the 1960s. Worn female shoes in sealed niches are stand-ins for the missing bodies and evoke reliquaries for the remains of saints. “I believe that the major possibilities of art are not in showing the spectacle of violence but instead in hiding it,” the artist has said. “It is the proximity, the latency of violence that interests me.”‘ The symbolic representation of missing people was striking. 

I left the MoMA wondering

  • What kinds of ideas, feelings, issues, stories will the farmers of Mulgavan and I feel inspired to speak about through the art that we will create?
  • How can we use symbols, color, texture, scale, to tell these stories?
  • Can we play with traditional art forms, like block printing, and co-opt them to tell the untold stories, like Kara Walker did in “Gone”?

I suppose we’ll find answers to these questions over the next several weeks. Stay tuned!

Project Progress

Hello friends. Today has been a wonderfully productive day for my project preparation.

Part of my preparation process is looking to other artists and projects for inspiration and ideas. I’ve been exploring the Craft in America videos and stumbled across this one featuring several textile artists. The piece “Portrait of a Textile Worker” by artist Terese Agnew, really stood out to me. I love the way Terese worked with so many people to collect the clothing tags that she used to piece together this portrait of a woman who works in a textile factory in Nicaragua. The textile itself is intricate and beautiful and the story behind it and the material used is so thoughtfully crafted, perfectly symbolic of labor issues and human connection or lack thereof. The segment on “Portrait of a Textile Worker” begins around 46:25 in the video below. I encourage you to check it out!

I am also making progress with my Indiegogo campaign! As of today I am 40% funded. I have 8 days left to raise the remaining $3,300. If you can make a contribution, please head over to my page and do so!

back in the game!

This past April and May, I participated in a Group-Centered Leadership mini artist residency with the Yeyo Arts Collective in St. Louis. Throughout the residency, each participant worked on envisioning an art project, going through the process of creating an elevator pitch, working out a budget, and coming up with a plan to see the project through. It was an incredible experience to work with local artists who were starting the process of honoring their identities as artists by working to bring their dream projects to life. Each artist’s project was a reflection of a central truth of theirs.

Like with most things, I applied to the residency based on a gut feeling, knowing that it would be a rewarding and enriching experience. I did not, at that time, have a project really planned out. But for the purpose of applying to the residency, I created one. Well, I committed to finally taking seriously an idea that I’ve been mulling over for some time.

Ever since returning from India and moving to St. Louis, I’ve wanted to create art that

  • reveals the struggles that cotton farmers in India face daily
  • connects their struggles to consumers in the United States by highlighting all of the cotton we consume daily, and
  • connects Indian cotton farmers’ struggles to Monsanto, a locally based multi-national corporation that sells cotton seeds to farmers in India and funds really worthwhile art, education, and community programs in St. Louis.

For a myriad of reasons, I’ve never moved past the brainstorm/envisioning stage of this. And I’m glad I was stuck there for a long time, because over the last few months I’ve realized that there is a whole new dimension to the project that I want to highlight.

Many of you know that I’ve been involved in the activist community in St. Louis since moving back to the city in 2013. And since last August, when Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, that my involvement has centered around issues of race and inequality. Rampant racial disparities in St. Louis were one of the main reasons why I was compelled to work on food justice issues in St. Louis. Mike Brown’s death re-centered race issues in my work. I participated in the YWCA’s book club “Witnessing Whiteness.” I found a group of creative thinkers to plug into actions with – helping to create and enact #chalkedunarmed, the symphony action, FoodSpark potlucks centered around discussing race and privilege, and various banners and art used in protests spanning from August to today.

In February we hosted two FoodSparks, one in Ferguson and one in Shaw. These FoodSparks focused on creating a space for protestors and activists to creatively process the last 6 months in St. Louis and Ferguson and collectively envision the next 6 months. Participants added thoughts and artwork to placemats at each potluck, as well as to a blank storywall that was added to a collection of storywalls created in August in response to the things our communities were experiencing in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s death. We collected these works and exhibited them at the Atelier D’artiste 14 Community Gallery in Old North, St. Louis.

artwork by William Burton Jr.

artwork by William Burton Jr.

When I walked into the gallery to meet with William Burton, Jr., one of the gallery owners, I immediately noticed a vase with cotton. As I took in the artwork on the walls, I saw cotton, cotton, cotton. I began to realize that cotton has an incredibly important history here in the United States. The history of slavery and racial oppression in the United States is bound up in the economy of cotton. I began to think about how capitalism and today’s economy enslave small-scale cotton farmers in India and what the threads connecting these seemingly separate social justice issues are.

artwork by William Burton Jr.

artwork by William Burton Jr.

As I got into my residency with Yeyo, I began to envision ways to visually draw these connections and create a critique of the racist and oppressive nature of capitalism that could span centuries and continents. It was around this time that I received an email from JetAirways alerting me of a one-weekend only deal on flights from Newark to Mumbai. The deal was too good to pass up. So I bought a ticket and began planning a return trip to India for October-November 2015.

This catapulted my project into the beginning stages of action!
I applied for (and received!) an Artist Support Grant from the Regional Arts Commission (RAC). Leading up to leaving for India in October I will exhibit photographs from my work in India in 2011-2012 at the Yeyo Arts Collective Gallery (2907 S. Jeffereson Ave). “cotton: the fiber of our being” will be up in the gallery from July 3 – July 31. On Monday, July 13, I will screen the film Bitter Seeds, a documentary about growing cotton in India. Bitter Seeds was filmed in Vidarbha, the region where I lived and did my research in 2011-2012. We’ll screen the film and I’ll speak briefly about my experience in India and field questions related to the film and cotton farming. On Friday, July 24, I will lead an oral history workshop at Yeyo.

Although I received a generous grant from RAC, I need to raise more money to cover additional costs. I will be presenting at Sloup, a local monthly crowd-funding event in St. Louis, on July 26. And in August I will launch an online crowd-funding campaign to raise the remaining funding necessary for me to complete this project on the scale that I’m envisioning it!

Stay tuned for blog updates for all of the events I will be facilitating this July, as well as information regarding the fundraising (I’ll need your help, i.e. donations and spreading the word!), and project updates.

It’s good to be back!

-Aaron

Two Options

The story of an environmental activist (Dr. Vandana Shiva) and a farmer (Bija Devi) and their fight to preserve heirloom seeds in India amidst great opposition.
Created by: theperennialplate.com
In Partnership with Intrepid Travel: intrepidtravel.com/food/
For more information visit: navdanya.org/
Filmed & edited by:
Daniel Klein ( twitter.com/perennialplate/ )
Mirra Fine ( twitter.com/kaleandcola/)
Music by: The Orange Mighty Trio: orangemightytrio.com/
Filmed on 5d Mark iii w Canon 24-70, 70-200 2.8 L