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Ten Contemporary Artists Revising History in Baltimore

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One does not necessarily conjure up the image of an artist when hearing the word archive, but the concept is currently relevant at all levels of creative production. For visual artists, curators, performers, composers, and publishers, the purposeful creation of new archives, as well as the respectful transformation of past collections, is a common thread that unifies us on a quest to tell new stories and to diversify existing archives.

“For me the act of archiving is essentially about controlling and accessing some potential future,” says Taha Heydari, a visual artist who uses the Iranian women’s magazine Zan-e Rooz as source material for his new paintings. “I do not think of archiving as particularly innocent nor as a collective act. To me it is ultimately about exclusion and control, but in my practice, I have always archived photos.”

The act of sorting and calibrating historic information into a new vision for the future is an often-cited motivation for artists. “Histories are formed through objects, and the associations we create with those objects form the stories of our lives,” says visual artist Amber Eve Anderson. “An archive shows you how to see something. It acts as a frame. To some extent, archives will always be dependent upon institutions for their preservation, but as artists, we can point to what it is that should be archived.”

Sampling is widely practiced in music, but now there is more emphasis on purposeful methods and respectful boundaries, and more clarity around common practices of appropriation of women and artists of color. “Archiving impacts my practice because I sometimes will pull up old, unfinished material and approach it with a fresh perspective,” says Eze Jackson, an emcee, singer/songwriter, and activist. “It also allows people who are unfamiliar to go back and check out what they missed.”

“As a musician who produces and records sound, I’m constantly preserving experiences and moments through my work and sharing it on the internet,” says Ami Dang, a sitarist, composer, and producer, whose most recent album, Parted Plains, was inspired by South Asian and Middle Eastern folktales. “Never before has it been so easy to create an archive of a sound, an expression, or an experience. The web provides an experience that is an archive of this era. It tells secrets and shares what we aren’t supposed to see (for better or worse), and allows us to recycle content that may or may not be allowed to be reused,” she says.

An archive can function as a collective resource for creative communities. Lance Bankerd founded a costume library called House of Bankerd for Baltimore-area theater groups to use. “I am struck by the literal definition of archive, a repository of information, and how perfectly it describes art’s function for humanity,” he explains. “Through my various collaborations I have the truly thrilling opportunity to bring brand new local operas/musicals/plays/happenings to life through my partnerships with the fiercely talented and tenacious artists of Baltimore.”

For other artists, their engagement with archives comes out of a desire to uncover stories that reflect their own experience in a history that has largely excluded them and to bring about social change. As an undergraduate student, artist and curator Deyane Moses created the Maryland Institute Black Archives and Blackives, an exhibit and research project that uncovered the largely unknown history of Black students at MICA. “I found multiple stories of Black artists denied entry to the country’s leading art Institute simply because of the color of their skin,” she says. “This discovery was the start of the Maryland Institute Black Archives. I envision myself, and other artists, using the archives to rewrite art history.”

“As a female of African descent I grew up in a very segregated period of history, so the term archive has special meaning for my professional and personal practice which started early in my childhood,” says Dr. Leslie King-Hammond, founder of MICA’s Center for Race and Culture. “Libraries were void of books or archival resources to educate me about women and African American cultural and artistic history. This void inspired my interest in archaeology and made me start my own personal library and archive of materials critical to my intellectual and artistic needs during the pre-digital years.” King-Hammond says that these elements of material culture demand a more incisive and critical means of archival scholarship.

“Much of my creative process is inspired by years dedicated to studying those systems that deny justice for all people,” says artist Ernest Shaw, an art educator who was inspired to make murals and paintings after losing his son, Taj Amir Shaw, to cancer in 2008. “As a result, I consider my work to be an archive of images centered on actions taken toward justice. That justice begins with awareness. I don’t assume that everyone has that awareness.”

Archives are also about material and process, and questioning who has the authority to create a valid archive and how it can be manifested physically. “I made a joke recently that I am an anachronistic artist, since I make handmade books in today’s digital world,” says Amanda McCormick, publisher of Ink Press Productions. “I work in a lot of mediums to create art, but at the center is the book. Books are such an important part of our understanding of ourselves and, well, everything else.”

For Se Jong Cho, a scientist and painter, storytelling and archiving are fundamental human acts. “As a scientist, I develop mathematical simulation models using records and observations from our past and I approach my paintings in a similar way, but they are more personal,” says Cho, whose stream-of-consciousness paintings marry nature and science with personal narrative and pattern. “I archive my personal perspectives in my work and resolve internal conflicts during the making of them and I realized that I am also capturing the negotiation of art and science.”

The following photos, featured in BmoreArt Journal of Art + Ideas Issue 08: Archive, were made by Justin Tsucalas on site in each artist-archivist’s workspace or studio and present a wide variety of processes and materials.

 

Bmore Art Artist Portraits

Amber Eve Anderson, 36
Artist, Writer, Organizer
Greenmount West (Station North Arts District)

“Histories are formed through objects, and the associations we create with those objects form the stories of our lives. In building collections of images and objects, I’m creating new narratives to draw attention to things that might otherwise go unnoticed. A collection or archive shows you how to see something. It acts as a frame. With so much being archived all the time now, what becomes necessary is extracting what’s important from everything surrounding it and creating meaning through context. To some extent, archives will always be dependent upon institutions for their preservation. As artists, we can point to what it is that should be archived.”

Bmore Art Artist Portraits

Ernest Shaw, 50
Image Maker, Muralist, and Educator
Motor House, Station North Arts District

“The simplest definition of archive is the storage of an extensive collection of data. I have always believed that archived objects are well preserved, carefully handled, extremely clean and hold great value and significance. I create images that seek to provoke thought and action toward dismantling all forms of systemic oppression. Some of my images are cultural and some are historical, but those two categories are not mutually exclusive. Much of my creative process is inspired by years dedicated to studying those systems that deny justice for all people. As a result, I consider my work to be an archive of images centered on actions taken toward justice. That justice begins with awareness. I don’t assume that everyone has that awareness.

Artists have many roles and responsibilities. I consider the most important role of an artist is to be a social documentarian—to document the times of their respective existence. Some, like artists-activists Nina Simone and James Baldwin, would argue that social documentation is the only true duty and definition of an artist. I am witnessing many of my colleagues and contemporaries challenge, usurp and dismantle what is known as ‘The Canon’ relative to Eurocentric/Western artistic traditions, thus extensively creating new data and even new forms of collecting data and defining what can be considered data.”

Bmore Art Artist Portraits

Taha Heydari, 33
Visual Artist/Part Time Art instructor
School 33 Art Center in Federal Hill

“For me the act of archiving is essentially about controlling and accessing some potential future. This becomes possible by selection, categorization, and preservation of objects of the past according to specific ideas of taste or interest. I do not think of archiving as particularly innocent nor as a collective act, to me it is ultimately about exclusion and control. In my practice, I have always archived photos. Many of them are considered documentation of historical events. I also take screenshots of video games and computer generated glitchy images, low-quality surveillance photos, or scientific images. I save them on both my computer and phone, naming the folders and including notes about each.

Recently I started archiving images from a specific magazine, Zan-E Rooz. It was a weekly Farsi-language magazine focusing on women that pre-1978 showed significant influence from the Western world. I am actively archiving/reading/representing/distorting pre-1978 Iran, and the years immediately following the revolution. In this act of archiving, I am focused on the idea of how an ideology reacts to denounced cultural products, aesthetics and residue of a former regime. Wars and revolutions create points of chaos through time and provide a before/after binary by which history is constructed and ordered. I think our brains also desire a sense of order to map and navigate through time and space, so archiving and documentation seem unavoidable, almost to the level of survival. Museums and governments, scientists, Google database, all archive through various means. The way I archive is different. I am skeptical towards history—a collection of images, text and objects that has been curated to tell a story a certain way—I desire to question them by archiving and then re-presenting them in painting, which simultaneously changes and distorts what those objects manifest.

I paint the covers of Zan-E Rooz magazine, which often were portraits of Miss Iran and candidates for Miss Teen Iran. Once, they were ever-changing physical beings living in Iran, captured by analogue cameras on sensitive photographic paper whose image became visible through a series of chemical reactions. Photographs were captioned, laid out and mass produced by a printing press. Years later, these magazines were photographed or scanned digitally, turning into algorithms, and becoming visible through pixels on the screen of my phone, archived in folders on my computer and simultaneously on the internet. Perhaps they are also stored at SUPERNAP in Las Vegas or at the Inner Mongolia data center, but I question, are they even traceable? Are they even entities? All of these are happening as the particles of those living beings and those paper magazines are changing and decaying. This process of dissemination and reproduction of images always causes me to question, what am I actually painting?”

Bmore Art Artist Portraits

Eze Jackson, 39
Emcee, Singer/Songwriter, Activist
Lineup Room Recording Studio in Bromo Arts District

“Archive, to me, means maintaining certain records for history or revisiting. For me, archiving often impacts my practice because I sometimes will pull up old, unfinished material and approach it with a fresh perspective. It also allows people who are unfamiliar to go back and check out what they missed.”

Bmore Art Artist Portraits

Deyane Moses, 33
Artist, Agitator, and Curator
Station North Arts District

“The concept and practice of archiving has always been rooted in community and family. I remember looking through not only my family’s albums, but also others’. I would ask, Who’s that? When was this taken? And Where are they now? I loved hearing the stories (good and bad) of those who were cherished throughout the years. I believe this concept of family documentation and art of storytelling is embedded in my practice. I envision myself, and other artists, using the archives to rewrite art history.

I met photographer Dawoud Bey at MICA during Junior Thesis in the spring of 2018. I was still searching for a topic. During our conversation, he mentioned I should stay local and think about my community. Due to my involvement in MICA’s Black Student Union, I decided to start with the community closest to me. My search for MICA’s Black history proved to be harder than I thought; out of a 320-page book there was only one page that acknowledged Black existence at the Institute. This deficit encouraged me to further investigate the state archives and online databases regarding the presence of past Black students at MICA. I found multiple stories of Black artists denied entry to the country’s leading art Institute simply because of the color of their skin. This discovery was the start of the Maryland Institute Black Archives.”

Bmore Art Artist Portraits

Lance Bankerd, 36
Impresario, Affiliations: Guerrilla Theatre Front, Baltimore Rock Opera Society, House of Bankerd
East Baltimore, Highlandtown

“I am struck by the literal definition of archive, repository of information, and how perfectly it describes art’s function for humanity. In my particular medium, theatre, whether we are mounting new work, devising original pieces, or staging mainstays from ‘the canon’ (itself a cultural archive, albeit a monochromatic and geographically stagnant one) we are archiving experiences. Beyond the scripts, drive folders, media, books, pages of notes… we aim to create an occurrence that will be preserved in the memory of the participants, performers and audience. Through my various collaborations I have the truly thrilling opportunity to bring brand new local operas/musicals/plays/happenings to life through my partnerships with the fiercely talented and tenacious artists of Baltimore. Ours is an arts community that has no limits and, in my experience, providing a creative ensemble with a safe and supportive space to do their work is the path to magic.

I often find inspiration’s spark while reading about history or while on some rabbit hole into a particular subject. By favoring marginalized narratives, commissioning local writers, and inviting collaborators who are able to tell their own story we are making new entries into our cultural archive and bringing to light and life parts of our history otherwise lost or forgotten.”

Bmore Art Artist Portraits

Amanda McCormick, 33
Publisher, Book Artist, Performer, Curator, Poet, and Professor
Hampden

“I think of archive as a form of preservation. It is not only to record but to ‘set in stone,’ if you will. When you create something, you set it, in a sense, like a frame. The nature of this is to establish those items and their relationship by way of the frame you are placing. I often conceptualize by thinking in questions. And as someone who is a collector, most attracted to odd and discarded things, I find it exciting to imagine a potential. To dream what a thing could be. To create it. As an artist, I would call much of my practice ‘gestural,’ meaning the material highlights the material, the whole makes the parts’ value greater. I believe my job is to engage with objects and ideas and form a relationship and dialog between those things and myself. I think this gestural process is archival, even unintentionally, because it not only showcases items not usually looked at or forgotten but also integrates those things back into the collective mindset, no matter how many individuals within that mindset directly engage with the thing or not (more than ever thanks to the internet).

I made a joke recently that I am an anachronistic artist since I make handmade books in today’s ‘digital world.’ The more I think about it, the more I embrace it. I work in a lot of mediums to create art, but at the center is the Book. Books are such an important part of our understanding of ourselves and, well, everything else. They establish ideas, preserve them, display them, and allow them to be distributed. It is hard to deny that singularly, a book is an archive. Books can come in many forms when you approach what it is as a concept, all potential. Even our internet is a direct descendant of these objects, dynamic by default. Books utilize mechanical invention to write and catalog the future (among other things). In my world, recontextualization is the new new. Why would you try to reinvent the wheel? Well, the more technology we gain, the more potential for pre-existing things. Think of what happened to the icebox when we established electricity. Or to television when we standardized streaming.”

Bmore Art Artist Portraits

Dr. Leslie King Hammond, 75
Artist, Art Historian, Curator, Community Art Activist
Mount Washington

“The term Archive has special meaning for my professional and personal practice which started early in my childhood. As a female of African descent I grew up in a very segregated period of history. Libraries were void of books or archival resources to educate me about women and African American cultural and artistic history. This void inspired my interest in archeology and made me start my own personal library and archive of materials critical to my intellectual and artistic needs during the pre-digital years. Initially trained as an artist, my collection then grew to include domestic handmade crocheted, knitted, tatted, stitched, woven and embroidered items by anonymous women. My artistic practice is inspired by the archives of my art historical research, found domestic objects made by anonymous women for domestic use and the need to reclaim the artistic presence of invisible, voiceless women and people of color. I love to do hand stitching and create altars, assemblages and installations that recall memories that speak to the interiority of safe, sacred spaces defined by the culture of people of color and women.

The preservation of history needs a broader definition of how an archive can more effectively function to include crucial resources that are inextricably tied to the power of storytelling. Visual narratives drawn from elements of material culture, found and repurposed objects, ephemera, domestic, common, mundane and ordinary ‘stuff’ demand a more incisive and critical means of archival scholarship. The work that I am compelled and inspired to make seeks to bring to light stories and memories of how ordinary, working-class people—especially women and people of color—used materials at hand to create powerful statements about the world/s in which they live/d.”

Bmore Art Artist Portraits

Ami Dang, 35
Composer, Producer, Sitarist, Singer, Grant Writer, Development Consultant
Waverly

“As a musician who produces and records sound, I’m constantly preserving experiences and moments through my work and sharing it on the internet. Sometimes I feel that, due to the internet and huge increase in digital storage and methods for cataloguing and disseminating content, we are sharing too much. We document too much. We have too much content in the digital space for us to locate and view what’s important and valid. But in the context of history, this is a major development. Never before has it been so easy to create an archive of a sound, an expression, or an experience. The web provides an experience that is in and of itself an archive of this era. It tells secrets and shares what we aren’t supposed to see (for better or worse) and allows us to recycle content that may or may not be allowed to be reused.

Even though archiving is an inherent part of my creative process, I honestly don’t think about it that much. As a musician (recording artist/producer/composer), I’m always focused on my next performance or my next recorded album (or song). The latter takes on a medium that is archived. I forget how different this is than the music created decades ago—when recording technology didn’t exist. Now, creating the archive is the medium and it’s an essential part of my practice.

My most recent album, Parted Plains, was inspired by South Asian and Middle Eastern folktales and various interpretations and translations of those folktales. In particular, I started thinking about these stories when I was revisiting Sohni Mahiwal, a tragic romance (sort of a Romeo and Juliet story) from Punjab. Sohni, the protagonist, falls in love with Mahiwal but their love is forbidden by her parents due to them being from different castes. I reflected on this quite a bit when I was engaged to be married to my husband, who is from a different ethnic and religious background than mine. My parents weren’t too thrilled about our relationship. While thinking about the story, I reflected on how these similar narratives have pervaded over time and how they are re-told in every culture. On top of that, in the west (and among progressive circles), we tend to think of these stories as outdated or no longer relevant, but a lot of communities are still very insular. I tried to capture some of these feelings (in an abstract way) through the music.”

Bmore Art Artist Portraits

Se Jong Cho, 40
Research Scientist and Painter
Waverly

“It’s really hard to single out one thing that propels me to share a certain kind of story because I am a product of a multitude of experiences. A woman of color, immigrant, scientist, artist, and many other roles I take on, all in different ways, inform my creative work. I have many stories to tell, so I am continually developing different skillsets and acquiring tools to ensure that I am flexible to embody a range of perspectives. One day I would paint figures, the next I paint landscapes, surreal planes, animals, or abstractions, and I find the transition process becoming more fluid as I become a better painter. I try to maintain this dexterity so I have the freedom to tell any kind of stories with as much precision as possible.

Humans exist in the flow of time, the artifact possible by our penchant for archiving our experiences. Archiving our experiences, as well as the knowledge derived from them, empowers us to control the currents of our lives that guide us to the future. As a scientist, I develop mathematical simulation models using records and observations from our past. Creativity is central to the integration of different types of data and turning them into useful models. Essentially, I am using the models as a tool to tell stories about what the past data reveal about our reality. Such an act of archiving allows us to make predictions about the future and calibrate our decisions to arrive at desired future events.

I feel that I approach my paintings in a similar way, but they are more personal. I archive my personal perspectives in my work and resolve internal conflicts during making of them. It helps that painting is a physical work and it takes time to make them, because this practice gives me so much time to contemplate, meditate, and reflect on these issues. Right now, the topic that baffles me the most is why we are failing to act collectively to address the environmental destruction brought on by our treatment of the Earth. So, I began a series of paintings that depict the places where we extract from the Earth. At first, I wanted to paint the beautiful aerial imageries I encounter in my scientific research. Then, I read a Georgia O’Keefe letter describing her observations from flying where the landscape resembled ‘marvelous rug patterns’ and ‘abstract painting.’ I was propelled to capture this negotiation of landscape and abstraction that O’Keefe so keenly described. Then, as the body of work grew in this series of paintings, I realized that I am also capturing the negotiation of art and science.

Storytelling and archiving are the most fundamental human acts. I do it as a scientist and as an artist, and frankly we should utilize all the tools at our disposal to tell our stories accurately and preserve them precisely because our future depends on these stories. Ideally, as we grow older and acquire more knowledge, we should develop more tools and strategies to preserve and tell our stories more effectively. Likewise as our civilization matures, we should develop new ways to preserve and tell history, in which both art and science contribute to its advancement. Art creates the vision for the future and science delivers the vehicles to get there. Personally, the division between art and science is blurry because at their core, both disciplines are about preserving history, storytelling, and paving the way to the future. I envision myself and others stepping over the disciplines’ boundaries to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the world and ourselves in it, so that we can better navigate the currents of our lives.”

These portraits were originally published in the BmoreArt Journal of Art + Ideas: Issue 08 Archive

This story is from Issue 08: Archive, available here.

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