Uprising Art is media partner of the first edition of the BIAC, Biennale Internationale d’Art Contemporain de Martinique, that takes place between November 22, 2013 and January 15, 2014 and which theme is « On the Resonance of the Literary Outcry in the Visual Arts ». For this need, Uprising travels to the Martinique from November 19 to 26 to report on the event and conduct a series of interviews of the organizing team, the invited curators, the artists in residency and the artists from the International and Martinican Pavilions.
Follow us to know more on the backstage of the event and its main outcomes.
Exclusively an interview of
Shoshanna Weinberger, jamaican-american artist
This is the first edition of the BIAC in Martinique, FWI. What is the importance of such an event?
SW: I am very honored that Tumelo Mosaka selected my work to be a part of the first edition of the BIAC. The biennial will allow exposure to the local community, the region as well as the world to see the diversity of art and its makers from the Caribbean.
Are you presenting new artworks in the International Pavilion?
SW: No, the work that will be in the BIAC, A Collection of Strangefruit, was included in the 2012 Biennial at the National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica. Tumelo Mosaka selected it for this presentation in Martinique. I am excited that the (18) drawings that make up (1) whole installation will be on view for a new audience.
You are exploring women’s representation of themselves and the impact of ‘social norms’ on their own understanding of their body. How can women get rid of those excessive assumptions that are constantly made on their physical appearance?
SW: I consider what popular culture defines as feminine beauty to be is skewed and distorted. Making connections with the awkwardness as a female growing-up, trying to define myself within a context of regional, social, and cultural beauty. Reflecting on my personal issue, the media and Hollywood. I am exploring that the social norms are abnormal. Excessive plastic surgery and body dysmorphia are just one of many avenues that I explore. My drawings relate to all women as each of us see magazines and deal with the global media culture of beauty that in many ways comes at us from various avenues. I believe that it is a part of our obsession that extends beyond beauty but cultural ideology.
Your drawings and paintings, survey like, disrupt “common” aesthetics; are you fighting against the standardization of the body?
SW: I am trying to present an exaggeration of aesthetics that result in imagery depicting excess, malformed and decapitated bodies, mutations of multiple-mouths, breasts and buttocks. I am displaying only the parts that are desired: lips, legs, ass, breasts and hair. I am reducing to the most sexualized and then repeating it removing everything else and leaving parts.
It is clear that your investigation is not only about driving women to reevaluate and redefine beauty’s criterion and ideals but also about denunciating the objectification and hyper-sexualization of women. Your characters seem strangled, oppressed. You create confusion and tension around that…
SW: The figures are suggestive, submissive and powerful. Found tangled, hogtied and suffocated with props associated within femininity such as bras, thongs, thigh-hi stockings, jewelry and high-heels. Consciously framing my subjects as specimens, in the survey tradition, these portraits remain within a border at times, suspended inside the drawing. Styled with hair from my personal experience, these figures are found wearing cornrow braids, un-kept locks, pressed out curls and pigtails, creating a sense of familiarity, confusion, humor and tension.
Sexuality and power often get linked. Is this an axis you like playing with in your artworks?
SW: I want my drawings allude to the psychology of coexisting in human and animal form as well as forms grotesque and sexualized. I like playing with the idea of creating highly sexualized images and then displaying the works individually or in groups, I allows me to see the otherwise sexual objects as natural objects recorded in historical surveys much like the ones made in the 1800s in my native West Indies. I consider myself a visual anthropologist examining female archetypes. Installing combinations of drawings, I create a collection of images on paper that present as one work. These wall installations are displayed in the style of the modernist grid or are hung salon-style. Both presentations are to distinguish the variations of archetypes that I interrupt. The groupings display multiple variations under one context much like a comparative studies akin to the variations of a butterfly collection that presents the unique evidence of variation and mutation as a single image.
What about hybridization and mutation in your practice? Your visual world includes animals’ elements, shells.
SW: Use of shells > Some of my forms are placed on a scallop shell akin to the mythological Birth of Venus story. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus shell is transformed into a new symbol of femininity and beauty. In my contemporary version Venus is “missing.” Replacing her is a striper pole, or an embryonic disco ball that the vessel now holds. In some drawings, shells are scrawled with writing; the kind found defiling public spaces in high schools, bars and bathroom stalls. This graffiti is entitled “Lost Love, Love Found” that celebrates declared love or when scorned, is an expression of loss and anger. Declarations that allude to mating are used as scars or hieroglyphs that cover malformed bodies. This graffiti underscores the desire for beauty both personal and public.
SW: Use of animals > In some of my drawings I want to marry or mutate the form wanting to flip between human and animal. Using mule hooves to represent the outdated term “mulatto” that would define my mixed-race identity. The word mulatto references a mule, which is a sterile animal. I wanted to add this element of exploitation into my already charged imagery.
The titles of your pieces and series are often humoristic and/or strong statements. Some of them like Strangefruit or Hottentot (referring to Sarah Baartman) are heavily loaded references. Could you elaborate on what informs your visual imagery and inspiration?
SW: I enjoy my titles. They stem from memories, pop-culture whether from music, classic or film noir. Along with historical references, natural things, and even beauty products. I enjoy marrying disparate things and the titles evoke some humor and/or at times can be slightly political and subversive.
SW: There are two answers for why I use the word “Strangefruit”
• The first adaptation, in an ongoing series, I have incorporated the title of famous protest song Strange Fruit written by Jewish-school teacher Abel Meeropol and made famous by singer Billie Holiday. Adapting the song-title Strange Fruit as a defining symbol for myself: the product of a Jewish man and Caribbean woman. The Jewish man “seeded or wrote” the poem and an African-American (in my case Caribbean-Black) woman who gave “birth or sung” – me the poem. Thus the title has a personal reference through cultural reference.
• The second definition of Strange Fruit, alludes to W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Double Consciousness.” My use of “strangefruit” defines myself as peripheral, examining how others perceive and define me, as I am considered “exotic” in America; and not “Jamaican-enough” in Kingston. This experience of existing in two-different cultures, has allowed me understand the complex facets of beauty from both geographical perspectives. Strangefruit seems to sum up this idea : complexity in abstraction.
Who are your artistic influences?
SW: Artistic influences have changed over the years and are now historical events, people, places or things however in terms of artists that have inspired me to create here are a few from over the years: Ellen Gallagher; Paula Rego; Louise Bourgeois; Hans Bellmer. Karl Blossfeld; Carrie Mae Weems; Magritte; Romare Bearden, Arturo Herrera; Kerry James Marshall; Raymond Pettibon; Adrian Piper; Saul Steinberg; Eva Hesse; and Jim Lutes. Before getting my Masters at Yale School of Art, Yale University ‘03, I went for an undergraduate degree at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1991-1995 and was influenced by the “Chicago Imagists” like Roger Brown; Jim Nutt; and Christina Ramberg.
Do you consider you inscribe yourself in the wide discussion on Black body portraiture?
SW: I believe my drawings touch on a boarder cultural range of body portraiture. Although there is a vast history of Western culture creating myths based on difference and fear of femininity as viewed within a male-culture. My drawings are a body of work that explore contemporary connections stemming from the myth of ‘otherness doing otherness things’ as well as my addressing/defining cultural stereotypes, and historical references of subjugated women as modern-day Hottentots alluding to Sarrtjie Baartman, Josephine Baker and branching out to contemporaries, from Jennifer Lopez, Snookie to the infantile Honey-Boo Boo. Recreating a visual psychology in the drawings is captured in the beauty distortion found in prepubescent pageant toddlers, teenage girls, strip-club dancers, West-Indian Dancehall performers, pop-culture icons, and even self-portraits.
I do not know if you are familiar with the work of Firelei Baez, a Dominican artist, but it seems there is certain filiation between your investigations and both your depiction of hair as an epitome of cultural identity and your use of patterns for bodies…
SW: Yes, I know of Firelei Baez and her work. In fact, a few years ago my father was (up from Jamaica) walking around in New York City and passed a gallery that had her work in it. He told me to check her work out and that we seemed to be exploring similar themes. Firelei and I have met. We’re both mixed-race and from the Caribbean, so we each have our own personal visual language and unique mark making that explores similar themes on body, hair, identity and culture.
Where would you say you are standing as to your artistic career?
SW: As an emerging artist, I hope to continue to be viewed by more people who will understand my evolution as an artist and the work I make.
You are currently living in the USA. How is your practice received in the Caribbean?
SW: Yes, I currently live and work in Newark, NJ. My work in the 2012 Biennial at The National Gallery of Jamaica had a presence. When I went down to Kingston, in February of 2013, I was asked to lecture for NLS (new local space) that is an artist-run contemporary visual art initiative in Kingston. The lecture was well received and allowed those who attended to have a dialogue and better understanding about my work. The event was hosted by Hi Qo Art Gallery, Kingston, and many college art students from Edna Manley School of Art attended. Afterwards, students who attended approached me to say that they were grateful I shared my process and practice with them. It is my hope that my work will have gravity in the years to come and inspire more young artists to find their own explorations.
What are your upcoming projects?
SW: I will have drawings up at Carol Jazzar Contemporary, in Miami, during Art Basel Miami Beach, this December 2013.
Plus (2) solo exhibitions in 2014 at the following:
• Woman Made Gallery, in Chicago, IL (May 9 –June 26, 2014)
• Carol Jazzar Contemporary, Miami, FL (my 2nd solo show, TBA, 2014)
• Also I have been invited as a guest juror to curate a group show of my own theme selection in Chicago, in 2014 as well. My theme for the group show is “mutations” and the title of this group show is “Mutations of Otherness”. I am looking forward to seeing what artists will submit under that theme. Also at Woman Made Gallery, in Chicago, schedule in 2014.
By Clelia Coussonnet
Headline picture’s credits : © Shoshanna Weinberger