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Quarantine Diaries: Erick Benitez, Elliot Doughtie, and Antonio McAfee

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In 2004, after the presidential re-election of George W. Bush, Toni Morrison responded to the sorrow that so many people felt: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” 

It is interesting and tragic that her words still echo in 2020, at a time when we experience our worlds in quarantine under unquestionably tyrannical rule. Right now the future seems terrifying, yet in the midst of this maelstrom, art persists and artists do too. For the past few months, my friends and colleagues have not stopped creating. My coworkers have not stopped writing. Artists consistently make, write, draw, paint, sketch, 3D-render, and photograph in response to circumstances beyond their control, translating collective emotion into works of beauty and inspiration. Who else can respond to terror with elegant triumph?

 

Installation view of Connect+Collect “Concept+Context” with works (L-R) by Antonio McAfee,  Elliot Doughtie, and Erick Benitez
Window Installation by Antonio McAfee and Scuplture by Elliot Doughtie

In response to the unceasing uncertainty around Covid-19, my role and responsibility as a curator for the Connect+Collect gallery and program, have been altered immeasurably. I still cannot be sure if or when any of my curatorial plans will come into fruition. I’ve recently been trying to figure out what a socially distant exhibition opening would like and how curators and gallery staff can entertain and congregate in spaces when a deadly virus is running rampant. My duties have expanded to speculating on the ways we can support artists through our current reality. 

This has been a persistent and resounding question during my time at BmoreArt: “How do we support artists?” Presently that includes asking how can curators and gallery directors convert art exhibitions from their traditional, physical, three-dimensional forms into a different manifestation—online or safely in-person—that is palatable, compelling, aesthetically pleasing, and logical for the work on display? I want to recognize that my position as a curator and my personal concerns seem trivial to me, in comparison to the reality of others who have lost their jobs and their livelihoods, and even their lives. To some, art is an expendable luxury, but I also know that art is a divine necessity that is critical to artists and inseparable from their existence. Art is a tool for liberation, for the self and for others.

We are all attempting to do our best possible work in this new world and I am exhausted by the sheer amount of virtual exhibitions that are flooding my email inbox. As a person who draws energy from being in front of a work of art physically, I have not yet been able to find that feeling translated online and I find it difficult to appreciate art in artificial realities. (Although I seem to have a boundless capacity to digest mindless social media.) At this point, I recognize that my desire to experience art in person is a physical impossibility. I am facing the fact that the art market, and my job, are not only deeply affected by the pandemic but also might not ever be the same.

This edition of Quarantine Diaries features three artists whose exhibition at BmoreArt’s Connect+Collect Gallery was postponed indefinitely: Erick Benitez, Elliot Doughtie, and Antonio McAfee. The exhibition was scheduled to open the week after the pandemic was declared, a week after I started the position. The group exhibition, titled Concept+Context has been extended until August 1.

Although we cannot host an event that is packed with people, our goal for the gallery abides: to cultivate an audience and support for these artists because their work is excellent, relevant, and it deserves to be seen, discussed, and venerated. To support these artists, you can read more about their experiences and ideas, follow them on social media, and collect their work. Especially in times of chaos and uncertainty, art and artists exist to lead us forward. As Morrison wisely said, this is how civilizations heal.

 

 

Erick Antonio Benitez, Initiation II

Erick Antonio Benitez, Artist, Musician, Curator, Organizer
IG: @the_artist_being_
Web:
erickantoniobenitez.com

Where do you live? Who are you quarantining with? 

I live in Mount Vernon neighborhood (Baltimore, MD) in the same space as The Parlour gallery. I am quarantining with my partner Ariel (26) and our dog Hikuri (1.5 years).

Do you have a studio in your home or do you have access to a studio? 

My studio is located in the Parkdale Studios in Woodberry. I still have access to my studio.   

Did you have any other exhibitions, opportunities, or residencies, that were canceled, delayed, or affected by COVID-19? 

Yes! To name a few: Group shows at Katzen Museum at American University, Arlington Arts Center (Summer Group Exhibition), WPA Annual Auction, Video Screening at Rhizome DC, Artist Panel at Walters Museum, DJ gig for Paradigm launch (exhibition and music).

What are your hopes for the Baltimore art scene post COVID-19?

I hope that many institutions, organizations, and patrons can support the artist community more than ever because artists have been greatly affected by this crisis. Perhaps new initiatives and structures that can support artists by providing health care, subsidize living, funding and advocacy. Some models that could reflect European ethics.

How have you been successful in selling your work during this time? Have you utilized any online methods? 

Not yet. The gallery that I am represented by (Catalyst Contemporary in Baltimore) is using online methods such as Artsy.

 

Erick Antonio Benitez:  Canto Amarillo, Canto Verde, and Canto Violeta, digital prints on aluminum

What do you look forward to most every day under quarantine? 

The Zen Garden (Druid Hill Park), going my art studio and music studio (at home), going on long walks with my dog Hikuri and Ariel, eating and cooking well, learning new things about physical, mental and spiritual health, watching online inspirational talks by individuals who motivate me, exercising and meditating, riding my bicycle and doing research on education, sound, ecology, and outer space.  

What has been most difficult for you to adjust to?

The hardest thing was probably accepting the global chaos, state of uncertainty, and the wellbeing of my loved ones. My sleep schedule went rogue for a couple of weeks well. 

What are you reading or watching on tv right now that has been excellent?

Reading about the Kybalion and Hermetic Philosophy, Hero of Thousand Faces, The War of Art and Perros Romanticos. I’ve also been watching Ralph Smart YouTube videos, Initiation by Matias De Stefano (Gaia series), Self Made; series of Madam CJ Walker, Birth of Cool; documentary focusing on the great Miles Davis and The Mandalorian series. Also playing a bit of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Switch. 

What are you most looking forward to after quarantine is over? What will you do, with great joy, when you are allowed to?

I am looking forward to traveling, exhibitions, DJing/dancing with people, and lots of HUGS for everyone!!! Also with joy: not wearing a damn mask! 

Have you taken up any new hobbies? What are you making?

I’ve been teaching myself a bit of 3D blending animation. Also working on some new apparel that I want to launch later this year. In the studio, I’ve been really excited and inspired to be painting a lot (working on a new series of large scale multimedia works). I’ve also been working a lot on music and have a few projects on the works. Furthermore, I am prepping for two international performance art pieces taking place in El Salvador and Germany (later in the year). 

How have your professional goals shifted during this time? How can people support what you do?

I guess my work has shifted more into a dynamic entrepreneurial ethics. I have a growing interest in my work expanding outside of just the visual arts and interlacing with other professions and collaborative efforts. Music has been heavily on my soul, I am aspiring to dedicate more energy into it. Not to say I will neglect my previous bodies of work—I still will and plan to give my visual studio practice my all! Additionally there are a few new futuristic ideas I have been brainstorming and researching, in regards to equity and helping uplift underprivileged communities locally, nationally, and globally. I am feeling very optimistic about the future. As far as support goes, I am a multidisciplinary creator, so there are many ways to support my practice, including buying works (2D and 3D), music projects, and soon my apparel products. Also always accepting donors and patrons 🙂

 

 

Erick Antonio Benitez, Canto Verde
Erick Antonio Benitez, Canto Violeta
Elliot Doughtie, (L) My Head, My Thighs, Plaster, wood, and enamel paint, 2017; (R) With Teeth, Wood, tile, gypsum, and fox fangs, 2019

Elliot Doughtie, Artist, Hirshhorn Exhibitions Specialist (aka art handler), Freelance whatever I can get into
IG: @elliotdoughtie
Web: elliotdoughtie.com

Where do you live? Who are you quarantining with? 

I’ve been in Baltimore for almost 7 years now. Five years on Oliver Street in Greenmount West. As for in the apartment, it’s just me and Sheldon the cat.

Do you have a studio in your home or do you have access to a studio? 

My studio is across the street from my apartment. I can’t make the work that I do at home. It would be hazardous to my health and definitely the cat, so I have been cautiously going in as I have been able to retain access. It has been easier to feel comfortable going to the studio since most of the other artists haven’t been around and I can keep working without any contact/contact stress. And by working I mean sometimes just going to the studio opening all the windows and just staring at what is there and not being in my stuffy apartment staring at the cat. 

Did you have any other exhibitions, opportunities, or residencies, that were canceled, delayed, or affected by COVID-19? 

I was supposed to have a solo show at Basketshop Gallery in Cincinnati through ACRE Residency. It would have opened on the 13th of this month, but is now postponed until potentially the fall or winter. The installation I planned, which is themed around a locker room or public shower experience, is currently taking over my studio and, by fate of staying in the studio, keeps growing. I will eventually have to make some decisions to edit it down to work with the gallery space and logistics. Everything else was just canceled. 

What are your hopes for the Baltimore art scene post COVID-19?

I’m not sure because the Baltimore art scene that I have known thus far is constantly changing and reacting or recovering from major or minor events. It always comes back and finds its footing differently, reacting and changing, so I’m sure it will continue to be the same roller coaster, just a new rather different major event. 

 

Installation view of “Concept+Context.” Foreground: Elliot Doughtie, Venus As A Boy, Wood, tile, gypsum, plaster, resin, copper pipe, epoxy putty, Buck Off TM, glass vial, cottonseed oil, testosterone, and fox fang, 2020

How have you been successful in selling your work during this time? Have you utilized any online methods? 

I really don’t have the salesman personality to have been able to pivot to focusing on chasing sales during this time. I am more comfortable just making more weird things in my studio that I don’t know where they are going, perhaps to add to the installation growing in my studio or future installations hopefully yet to come. But with the public-safety-conscious pivot away from in-person shows, those types of installations might be harder to market work to showing spaces. I am seriously worried about the future of getting my work out there. However, I do have some work that is in my studio that is sellable as is and C+C has talked me into trying online sales. 

What do you look forward to most every day under quarantine? 

Breakfast.

What are you most looking forward to after quarantine is over? What will you do, with great joy when you are allowed to?

Getting back to my job. 

Have you taken up any new hobbies? What are you making?

Breakfast. 

How have your professional goals shifted during this time? How can people support what you do?

My professional goals as goals haven’t shifted at all, however those goals feel farther away at the moment than they did however many months ago. That does not feel good. I still want to pursue making and sharing my work as much as possible. Work as much as possible, and do my own thing as much as possible.

 

 

Elliot Doughtie, My Head, My Thighs, Plaster, wood, and enamel paint, 2017
Elliot Doughtie, Sculpture For A Private Performance (A bottle of wine drunk with friends, a bottle of whiskey drunk alone), Wood, linoleum, plaster, wire, epoxy putty, gypsum, concrete, copper pipe, enamel paint, resin, and fox fangs, 2018/2020
Antonio McAfee, Oval #6, Archival Photographic Print, 2017

Antonio McAfee, Professor, Artist
IG: @antonioemca
Web: 
antoniomcafee.net

Where do you live? If in Baltimore, what neighborhood? Who are you quarantining with?

I reside in Greenmount West. The neighborhood is interesting because it is going through gentrification but there is still a strong presence of community organization and collaboration. 

Do you have a studio in your home or do you have access to a studio? 

I have a studio in my home and a separate studio near my home. I also do a great deal of printing at schools in which I teach.

Did you have any other exhibitions, opportunities, or residencies, that were canceled, delayed, or affected by COVID-19? 

Yes, I have a survey exhibition and residency at the Academy Art Museum, postponed to August. I am in a group exhibition at Maryland Art Place, which is up now but was postponed. I have an exhibition at Kuhn Special Collections Gallery at University of Maryland, Baltimore County that is in quarantine.

What are your hopes for the Baltimore art scene post COVID-19?

My hope for the Baltimore art scene after COVID is that the urgency to support the various demands of artists and institutions will continue. There has been a lot of communication and action implemented to support cultural practitioners during this time and that amount and type of support should continue.

 

How have you been successful in selling your work during this time? Have you utilized any online methods? 

I have been successful selling my work, in particular, when I have donated my work for charitable programs, for example, the Images for Baltimore fundraiser for Maryland Food Bank. I am still exploring leads. I have to present my work to interested people.

What do you look forward to most every day under quarantine? 

Under quarantine, I look forward to quietness, contemplation, working out, the various DJs and artists who perform online. I look forward to working all day, reading, making work, and how I can continue to grow shifts I have made in my practice due to COVID, for example, focusing more on finding supportive homes and opportunities for my work.  

What has been most difficult for you to adjust to?

The most difficult adjustment to quarantine is catching up with myself. It has been a long time since I have lived alone and been able to slow down and pay attention to my thoughts, feelings, and health, and contemplate more nuanced issues in my work. Having this time to slow down alone is helping me connect all the exhibition and program opportunities that I have into overarching issues in my work. These opportunities are different aspects of discussing and visually articulating the humanity and dignity in occupations and we have seen that connection lost in tragic examples in current and historical events. This also coincides with how various aspects of just living can be a form of resistance, and Black existence in all forms can be weaponized (against Black people) and be perceived as threatening (to white supremacy and its control over economics).

Have you taken up any new hobbies? What are you making?

No new hobbies, I have just been more active in old hobbies. I have increased reading and exercising. I am able to continue my practice at home but I have been working on the same projects, just refining and creating new pieces and doing research to inform myself about the subject matter. My goal is to make the work more elaborate in process and bring to the forefront more nuanced topics in my work and subject matter: labor, resistance, economic upward mobility, to list a few.

How have your professional goals shifted during this time? How can people support what you do?

My professional goals have not shifted which is to present ordinary people who were active in their own way of living a life of resistance, the forms and impact that took. I, in particular, have been consumed by the efforts of the 1881 Atlanta Washerwomen Strike. Black women organized to spawn a campaign against the city of Atlanta and employers for equitable and safe working conditions. 

People can support what I do by supporting the art scene, purchase work, and getting to know cultural practitioners on all levels, i.e., students, emerging artists, veterans in the game, as well as institutions of all types doing what one sees as meaningful work.

 

 

Antonio McAfee, Painted Ladies, Pigment ink and acrylic medium, 2020
Antonio McAfee, Oval #8, Archival Photographic Print, 2017

Photos by Cara Ober and courtesy of the artists

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