Gentrifying

Birth of a Nation Project – Detail, Mannequins, Kente Cloth, Camouflage, Spandex, Satin, and Artifacts, 2015 Birth of a Nation Project: During 2015, I created at least one new Ku Klux Klan robe a week. I re-imagined KKK robes in Kente cloth, camouflage, white satin, and other fabrics. I created robes for infants, toddlers, teens, and adult men and women.

“It’s always easier not to think for oneself. Find a nice safe hierarchy and settle in. Don’t make changes, don’t risk disapproval, don’t upset your syndics. It’s always easiest to let yourself be governed.” -Ursula K. Le Guin

Who thinks for you? Do you question every scrap of information that you hear each and every day or do you allow moments to become mantras, omissions to become origin stories, carrying on without asking what really happened? We grow up hearing the repetition of lies and half truths, these things are said to us for so long and so frequently that they become the very fabric of our reality despite their own basis in the same.

Paul Rucker recently gave a TED Talk and spoke to us from TED Talk headquarters in Vancouver where he was one of 20 fellows. Rucker was one of thousands of applicants for the 20 spots. His talk was about his work in the context of the theme of the normalization of systemic racism. Rucker says many of the policies that the Ku Klux Klan wished to have in place 100 years ago regarding segregation have come to fruition in either official or non-official ways. Rucker is also part of an upcoming group show at Institute for Contemporary Art in Richmond, VA titled Declaration. Rucker’s piece for the show titled Storm in the Time of Shelter is comprised of 52 KKK robes he created. Alongside these will be KKK artifacts from the 1900s and other pieces up to and including Nazi artifacts. The work addresses not only the changing form of systemic and structural policies as well as the period of time in the 1920s during which the Ku Klux Klan experienced a rapid rise until approximately 5% of the US population were members. The 1915 film Birth of a Nation as well as post war anti-immigration sentiment fueled this era of the KKK. One of Rucker’s other works titled Rewind addresses the repetitive nature and evolution of societal ills such as slavery to incarceration or lynching to police shootings, one system to another repeating the same thing over and over again. Of his work as it relates to current events Rucker says, “I can’t make anything in the gallery that’s more intense than real life. Outside the gallery, people that are unarmed on the phone in the backyard of their grandmother’s are being shot. That’s not happening in my gallery. But I want to go to the root cause of the legacy of this country. One of the reasons I create art is to bring to light, to make the unseen seen, to create empathy and understanding and if it has to be a little scary, it has to be a little scary.” A sign on the way out the door of the gallery reads, “Objects you see beyond this point you may find disturbing.” Rucker relies in part on grant funding for his work. Last year he was a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship. For years no one would fund his work. While his application hasn’t changed much over time, the clear need to address the focus of his work perhaps has. The need to address that our nation’s history is built on slavery has become more and more urgent and apparent. Rucker’s next project is called That Nice Black Neighborhood, addressing the very real racial disparity in the US. “The destruction of black neighborhoods is part of the plan,” Rucker says. To hear to more from Paul Rucker about his important work, listen to the complete interview.

Joan Waltemath is presently working on a project she began a decade ago titled Treaty of 1868, A Lament. One of the paintings in the series is currently at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The works themselves are very large, measuring around 14 or 15 feet square. In 2008 while at a residency, Waltemath realized that she didn’t know the full meaning of the Treaty of 1868. Some research taught her that this 150 year old treaty granted the territory where she grew up to the Lakota, Arapaho, and Cheyenne. Waltemath entered into each piece in the resulting series without really knowing where the work would take her. Waltemath developed a gestural language to create the pieces for the series. It was her intention to capture the feeling she had during different ceremonies within the Lakota spiritual practice. The elegiac feeling of these ceremonies speaks to the decimation of the culture at the hands of encroaching white culture. Her work is complicated because Waltemath herself is descended from homesteader great-grandparents who had a first hand role in the dispossession of territory. The work is meant to encourage the viewer to see things from multiple viewpoints. At no point is there a stable point of view, all images are informed by the viewer. Waltemath would ultimately like to exhibit all eight pieces in her Treaty of 1868 series together along with programming to coincide with the Native issues they represent.

After creating these works which are made up of scraps of canvas, Waltemath found herself with quite a lot of smaller canvas scraps. She began sewing them together to create other work and found they take on a character all their own. She has shown a few of them and would like to do so again in the future. Waltemath refers to these scrap art pieces as “the outtakes” to the larger project. To hear more from Joan Waltemath about her large scale work and the complexity behind it, listen to the complete interview.

A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:

Question everything you know on a regular basis, you might be surprised by the answers.

Interviews are available on iTunes as podcasts, and for Android please click here. All weekly essay pieces in a shareable format are here. The full archive of interviews here.

Books to Read

What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here. Paul Rucker is getting ready to read Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss. Joan Waltemath has been reading the works of Bifo Berardi.

Opportunities

It is never too soon to begin thinking about the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship application. Deadlines for the 2018-2019 cycle have not yet been announced, but the process is multi-faceted. Each applicant is expected to submit more than one written essay about their life and work as well as all pertinent biographical and work related information. As the deadline approaches, the experts at Praxis will offer you the opportunity to access personalized coaching and editing services as you put together your application for this venerated fellowship. For deadlines, keep an eye on the website.

Deadlines

Weekly Edited Grant and Residency Deadlines – review the list here.

 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for the article about Paul Rucker. My friend and teacher in Washington DC, Bill Christenberry did work many years ago on The Klan – his work was anti-Klan and spoke of the south. He had traveled with William Agee and he taught at the Corcoran School of Art. His studio was broken into, I believe, in the 70’s, and destroyed because some people thought he was pro-Klan.

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