Sunday, February 28, 2010

where i am now (letter today to a new, young friend)

i'm bummed.  i just lost my first response to your email.  here goes round 2...

i'll start by answering the question how a 52 year old black doctor started wheat pasting water tanks on the rez.  

afrika bambaata + the zulu nation.  i was into the early hip hop scene in nyc.  while doing my family practice residency in west virginia (of all god forsaken places), i started experimenting with graffiti and would take trips to nyc to check the scene there.  i visited fashion moda gallery in the bronx and keith haring's pop shop in soho.  i moved to toledo, ohio where i continued to do graffiti but it was text based.  i'd write things like "thank you dr. king.  i too am a dreamer" and anti-war slogans.  i did some stenciling work too but it was also text based.

in the early 90s in flagstaff i did a project i called urban guerrilla art assault where i'd tape b+w photos in public spaces in areas where bills were posted.  i developed a small following from this project as people started collecting images.  this project was influenced by the public art of diego rivera and keith haring.  then, i had my mind blown a year ago.  i spent 3 months in brasil on sabbatical.  it was my second trip.  i remember being strongly moved by the graffiti i saw on my first trip in 2004 and photographed a lot of it then.  however, during the last 3 weeks of my trip a year ago i hung out with street and performance artists.  one of the people i hung with was a graffiti artist who's work i noticed my first day in brasil.  for the next 2 months i saw his work everywhere around salvador.  then, as i said, i met hung - loved his energy and that of his friends.  he turned me on to the book "graffiti brasil" which turned me on to os gemeos.  about this same time i got turned on to "muto" by blu which lead to jr.

upon returning to the reservation, i wrote jr asking if he'd be interested in doing a project on the reservation.  while awaiting a reply, i began to envision the reservation as he might.  i wondered where he might place images and how he'd attempt to engage the local community about placing images of them up.  never hearing back from him (thank god), i thought - fuck it, i have 22 years of negatives.  i found a recipe for wheat paste on the internet, talked with a few people about using images of them for an art project i wanted to try and started pasting.

about this same time i was invited to participate in a show at munoz waxman gallery in santa fe during indian market week.  if you don't know the munoz waxman gallery, it's an old warehouse for repairing military tanks.  the space is huge.  the curator said she wanted big images to fill the space.  installing images over the first weekend in august last year ( was enlightening.  in fact, the weekend installation in santa fe was like a workshop for me in that this was the first time i'd "controlled" the background (by painting the wood panels), as well as piecing 2 or 3 panels together to create big pieces. 

in general, the feedback i received from people on the reservation has been positive.  i've learned a lot in pursuing the project however.  for example, one of my first pastings was of a hand holding a peyote button.  i learned that although a significant portion of the population is a member of the native american church, there's a deep division between christians and nac people.  that piece was the only one that was essentially buffed.  (too bad because it was a pretty piece.)

consequently, the project is interesting on several levels.  i've had to ask myself what it means to present street art in a community that has no tradition or history of it? what does it mean to have that street art be documentary photographs of people from the community?  how can i present them in such a way that some people don't feel this is a form of witchcraft?  

living here makes me remain responsible for the images i put up, sensitive to the people represented and their cultural mores.  if i didn't live here or know the value system, i'd put up more provocative work (like the "puppy love" series i placed in flagstaff), as opposed to straight documentary photographs.  whenever i talk with people from the community about the project and what i hope to accomplish with it, i emphasize my desire to share with them the elements of the culture i consider beautiful and/or at risk of being lost.  most people get that and are thankful for it.

so, it's totally liberating and invigorating for me to be able to express myself in this visual language.   the whole project has provided a new way for me to interact with the community, really feel like i'm giving them love in the form of this art and to question the ephemeral nature of life.  

anyway, this is an overview of where i am now.  i'm super excited that warm, dry weather is around the corner so i can get back outside to get work up.  i've an idea to partner with a local school on a piece this spring.  i have to remind myself that this project is based outdoors and on the rez.  it's all too easy to get caught up in the ego satisfying status of getting work on the international street art blogs such as wooster.  (that story is funny by the way.  i'd been submitting work to them since august and never got anything published until you sent photos to them.  i think that finally opened the door for the second set of images they ran 10 days later.)  i like that they never identify who is responsible for the images.  that's been a goal of the project as well - to have the focus of  everything be on the images, why they're there, what they represent, to challenge stereotypical beliefs about the culture without focusing on the person putting the pieces up.  so, my question to you is how would you approach documenting the project in light of the philosophy of the project?


(the old black doctor who loves street art)


Blogger Joerael J. Elliott said...

when i used to do and still do street art i like to remain unknown ... I think you should go about putting a book out with stories of the people along with images and never let to who does the images just play the doctor that took an interest in images with out saying , and you know the people because they were & are your patients , and include why these images are important for passer bys to see and raise awarness about life on the res and sell print of the photographs of the work and give the money or a portion back to orgs. in need on the res for example i Know there is not many if realy at all womens shelters on the res and there is a lot of abuse ... many issues to be addressed and even a bigger picture on the history of why res exist :)
cheers two cents on your "?" i am happy to see your sensitivity to the content and cultures you are interacting with !

March 7, 2010 at 3:41 PM  

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