A couple of years ago, you might have thought there were conversations going on about education and immigration, but now with the Tea Party and all this classic racist hubbub that’s raising its head about having a black president or a bi-racial president or whatever you want to call him, things that I feared and suspected haven’t gone away.
A lot of what I was wanting to do in my work and what I have been doing has been about the unexpected… that unexpected situation of wanting to be the heroine and yet wanting to kill the heroine at the same time.
As a child, I was subjected to a lot of spaghetti Westerns and hated them. I wanted the Indians to win – or just not be so sad!
Challenging and highlighting abusive power dynamics in our culture is my goal; replicating them is not.
Humor’s always been the problem of my work, hasn’t it? When working, I feel satisfied when I surprise myself. And when I surprise myself, I wind up laughing.
I am performing this role of the artist and this role of the ‘negress’ coming into a white-box institution. It’s kind of a self-appointed role: the self-designated negress.
I don’t know how much I believe in redemptive stories, even though people want them and strive for them.
I don’t think that my work is very moralistic – at least, I try to avoid that. I grew up with that sermonising tendency, and I don’t think visual work operates like that.
I grew up partially around Stone Mountain, Georgia, and in that part of the country, there was always this aura of mythology and palpable sense of otherness about being a Southerner.
I guess there was a little bit of a slight rebellion, maybe a little bit of a renegade desire that made me realize at some point in my adolescence that I really liked pictures that told stories of things – genre paintings, historical paintings – the sort of derivatives we get in contemporary society.
I have no interest in making a work that doesn’t elicit a feeling.
I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t really know what it was I wanted to say.
I know that in my family there are histories of violence that are internal family things and that are oftentimes dealt with internally. By internally, I mean inside the family group, but also partly inside ourselves. You know, self-hatred and hostility and rage and this cycle that won’t break.
I never learned how to be adequately black. I never learned how to be black at all.
I really love to make sweeping historical gestures that are like little illustrations of novels.
I took a political stance early on, but I don’t think my work is overtly political. I respond to events.
I trust my hand. If I go into a space with a roll of paper, I can make a work, some kind of work, and feel pretty satisfied.
I was making big paintings with mythological themes. When I started painting black figures, the white professors were relieved, and the black students were like, ‘She’s on our side.’ These are the kinds of issues that a white male artist just doesn’t have to deal with.
I’m a sponge for historical images of black people and black history on film.
I’m fascinated with the stories that we tell. Real histories become fantasies and fairy tales, morality tales and fables. There’s something interesting and funny and perverse about the way fairytale sometimes passes for history, for truth.
I’ve seen people glaze over when they’re confronted with racism, and there’s nothing more, you know, damning and demeaning to having any kind of ideology than people just walking the walk and saying what they’re supposed to say and nodding, and nobody feels anything.
It feels like a game, this work I do. It is totally heartfelt, and I love the sticky terrain, the straight-up cartoons, how the irrepressible and icky rise to the surface. But I am not just trying to call forth bugaboos and demons for the sake of it, for fun.
My work is really abject and self-effacing sometimes. I mean, it’s big and overwrought, but it’s just paper dolls, and it’s kind of silly.
Once you open up the Pandora’s box of race and gender… you’re never done.
Sugar crystallizes something in our American soul. It is emblematic of all industrial processes. And of the idea of becoming white. White being equated with pure and ‘true’: it takes a lot of energy to turn brown things into white things. A lot of pressure.
The illusion is that most of my work is simply about past events: a point in history and nothing else.
The promise of any artwork is that it can hold us – viewer and maker – in a conflicted or contestable space, without real-world injury or loss.
There is something very strange and unsettling for me about making a work that doesn’t fit with what’s the norm or what’s acceptable. There’s something both liberating about it and challenging. I can imagine it doing more harm than good.
There was a manifesto in the late ’60s/early ’70s, and it basically laid out what ‘black art’ was and that it should embrace black history and black culture. There were all these rules – I was shocked, when I found it in a book, that it even existed, that it would demarcate these artists.
To be a truly conscientious artist, you have to look at what’s not working and challenge it. You riff on things.