Friday, February 4, 2011

The Miseducation of Afrocentric Hair Video!

So I just created this video called "The Miseducation of Afrocentric Hair". I was moved to create this piece for a number of reasons: First,  I've been extremely inspired by the multiplicity of resources made available to create content on the web. Second, I've been looking for simple ways to communicate my present research ( the rhetoric of Afrocentric hair in social and new media) in a interactive way, and third, it is the cheapest way to make a film!

Believe it or not, the third reason is what won me over. I've made a total of 5 films in my career and so far this one took the least time, money, and effort! I can't say that the effort isn't just as effective, and I certainly put a lot of thought into it. I truly believe that could be a great screenwriting tool (saves time on drawing your own storyboards and plus you get to hear your thoughts out loud). Sure, you could pay $200+ on screenwriting software, but the process here is much more intuitive.  I've seen quite a few people make some great films using, most of the films that I've seen discuss complex career choices and even the challenges within African American relationships. It seems like a great platform to put theories into practice, and receive direct dialogue from your ideas.

Nevertheless, the debate on Afrocentric hairstyles and its acceptance within the African American community has frequently been on my mind, as I'm asked almost daily about my natural hair regimen. While I wrote a paper last semester on the rhetoric of Afrocentric hair, I'm now sure that my own thoughts were cloudy until a few weeks ago. For the past few weeks I've been approached by several younger (Hey, I'm still in my 20s ! LOL) African American women at my school (TWU)  who have complimented me about how I style my hair.  It's not that I did not believe it myself, however, I think that it's very telling to receive such a resounding response on a college campus (very different from the professional, corporate working world), which in my past college experiences were not always the case.
These responses have made me think even deeper about my research, and it seems that things are changing. Even when stopping at my favorite cafe (La Madeline's) I was approached by a young lady behind the counter. We had an extensive 15 minute conversation about natural hair care products, specifically Kinky Curly, and why it's only sold at Whole Foods! I mean truly, a change is definitely happening, and it seems very real.

So I'm sure your wondering what any of this has to do with art-making? Well, that's what the video is for! Nevertheless, I'm happy to say that these experiences and ideas are the beginning of artistic theorizing in the making.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New works showing at the driveby in Watertown!

So this summer my husband and I made our big move to Tejas from Boston, which I must admit has been the best decision we could have ever made. It's been an amazing experience and it's enabled us to spend more time with our family. I'm now studying in the brand new Ph.D program in Women's Studies at Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas, which has been a whole new journey for me. Coming from a fine art background this coursework has provided new areas of research and context for my future work.

Prior to leaving Boston I had been coordinating with curators Beth Kantrowitz( and Kathleen O'Hara( to participate in a new exhibition entitled, Who am I? which also features the work of Ben Sloat, Millee Tibbs, and Stephanie Fetter, all who explore issues of identity. Kantrawitz and O'Hara have curated this show in their new gallery space in Watertown called Drive-By. It was a bumpy road to get this new work produced because there was such a number of huge transitions happening in my life: moving across country, starting a new graduate program(with a mega course load), and transitioning into our new life in Texas. Yet despite of the challenges with transitioning, I'm very happy with this work. It is a continuation of past works that I've produced on brown paper bags, yet I tried some different approaches this time around. 

In my past works, I drew most of my inspiration towards representations of black women within Black publications, however, in this work I focused on the representations of white women in mainstream fashion magazines. This for me seemed to make the work even more relevant for its purpose, which is a question of assimilation. The "brown bag test" to me references a point in history certain groups of black people felt they needed to assimilate to survive or separate themselves from the masses. What I'm questioning in this work is how beauty and fashion media has encouraged black women to assimilate to the mainstreams standards. This work challenges the viewer to see past the visual and determine how assimilation may affect ones connection to identity.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Nombre Diversity at Holliston High School! Opening reception tomorrow!

So after nearly three months of working on my project with Holliston High School the work is finally complete and on view. The opening reception will be all day tomorrow, June 7th, 2010.

There is one thing I've learned from this experience more than ever before... know when to call for assistants! :)

I seem to always realize this at the last minute somehow, or at the final stretch of a project. I can recall a similar outcome when finishing my final project for my Senior project in undergrad, I never would have finished my project in time had it not been for the help of a good friend(who randomly volunteered to assist btw, and I'm not sure what I would have done without her!) My husband was my supportive assistant while I was finishing the final work for my Master's as well, and boy did I need his help! He needs to take his installation skills on the road!

So I'm realizing a pattern, that whenever I'm working on projects that have been initiated by my own ideas( meaning no one created the idea nor told me to do it), I need to always prepare and plan for assistants. BECAUSE as my former professor used to say, I always manage to do very ambitious work. Something I never wanted to believe at the time. I thought every artist wanted to create work with the type of vision that I put into my work, and I'm realizing that is not always the case. And I believe that I can learn from other artists who look at their work in more compartmentalized and simplified ways. Though something tells me that the way that I work is very specific to how I love to work, and ultimately I need to learn better ways to get the job done. Perhaps it wouldn't be as bad if I weren't both an artist who works with concept and vision, yet also in process. The process part seems to have a field day with the conceptual part of me because one idea can produce so many extensions of process. Lord help me! But no really, it was a great learning experience in which I believe it was destined to be. I think I can learn from the advise of my former mentor in grad school, Renee Cox, when she suggested I get an assistant to take the pressure off of me to feel that I had to do everything on my own.

The great thing about Studio 370 is that it truly is an experimental space, and honestly I wouldn't have been able to come up with the work that I did, in the freedom that I did, if it wasn't such a supportive space. I really feel so grateful for that, it's not often that you receive that opportunity right out of grad school so I feel very liberated.

I think the biggest challenge for me, which always is, managing a hectic schedule. So the project which initially was scheduled to begin as a process-based project that would end with a final exhibition, ended up being entirely process for a very long time! I'm so thankful to art teachers Doug Lack and Lisa Bynoe for their understanding, as they were really supportive throughout the entire process, and in the end were gracious enough to let me come back a month later to set up the show for view. It's been such a valuable experience that I'll never forget. What would you do without gracious people? Absolutely nothing, and that's why we need more of them!

So about the work, I feel very happy with what I was able to come up with, which is always a give and take. Some of the works were pieces I envisioned from the very beginning while others evolved overtime. Some pieces are a mix of both. The show officially started last friday, and I've already received some positive feedback so far. Many of the students really liked the use of technology, mixed media, and photography as they are used to more mediums like painting and sculpture. It really gave them a new angle on contemporary art, which I'm glad they were able to appreciate. I think their personal attachment was also that many of their images were included in the project, which was very impactful to them. When I was taking the photographs and explaining the project to them, they were all anxious to see how their participation in the project would be shown. Some students who didn't get a chance to get their pictures taken, where like "Wait, how come I didn't get to get my picture taken?" I think when you can make art that prompts that type of response you know that part of your goal was accomplished, because you know that the people that participated feel great that they were apart of it and others wish they could be.

The main piece that I envisioned when I initially proposed the project was 100 students, which is a grid of 5x7 photographs of 100 students from Holliston High School. This piece references so many things for me, but ultimately it's in part a "glimpse" of the student body. As if I had taken a random sampling of students to study as research. But I was particularly interested to see how diverse this sample of students would be. Rather than purposely select an evenly diverse selection of students I photographed students that randomly decided to participate from the art department classes and a few other classes. This image for me doesn't show the experience that I had photographing each student, which was priceless. Though ethnically or culturally it may look as if this group of 100 students are the same, that is wholely inaccurate. In my observation of them, and my discussion with them they all have different interests and points of view. So I found this initial part of the project to be one of the most rewarding in a number of ways, one because I was using photography which is one of my favorite mediums and two because of how comfortable the students where to share their goals and ambitions.

To my amazement, I also experienced first hand how critical young women can be of their own images. Many of them cringed at the sight of themselves, which was mystifying. I was able to see how much the media's impact of beauty affects young women at that age. Also, the notion of images of oneself is so much different with social networkng sites like "Facebook," young people are used to customizing an image that they want their peers to see. While in the case of this project, I edited and selected the images, so it was a interesting comparison. I guess another take would have been to allow the students select their own images, and it would have shown a picture of how they'd "like" to be seen. This is a notion that I learned about "portraiture" in a photo theory course I took in college that was based on the portrait, and the difference between what the subject wants to see in themselves and the virtue the photographer sees.

I think the most provocative experience in the project happened, while working on a piece that I entitled, See, Hear the Sound of Holliston, I interviewed and recorded 10 students through audio as they detailed their thoughts and beliefs about diversity. I edited and constructed 5 sound pieces from these interviews. In each piece the students tell of their ideologies about diversity within the school. It was so revealing because I met with them individually and they were really able to share their perspectives freely. Their reflections were so pure and a bold, and some even admitted that some of their views may have been a little biased based on their experiences. The most common thread in their discussion was that the diversity within Holliston High School has more to do with the town of Holliston, and it's level or lack of diversity. No student had the same perspective, but they all agreed in different ways that they'd like to see more diversity, yet that there was something very unique about their experience. Some of the students could see that diversity goes beyond racial diversity, and felt that their individual identities were a reflection of diversity. It was both a learning experience for me to hear their experiences, and it was also an opportunity for them to think about a subject that perhaps they have never had the opportunity to speak about constructively.

I then paired the sound works with a series of 16 photographs that I took during my time at Holliston High, which capture the essence of the educational space: the hallways, classrooms, courtyards, gym, and much more. It was a way to examine how the space of the school parallels or intersects with the actual experiences that this group of students report. Together I feel that the contrasting mediums really give a sense of what diversity means for many students at the school.

Then, I constructed a video installation in which I collaborated with a couple of female students, to create a video about diversity. I showed them a brief slideshow of images that are typically used to promote diversity. I'm sure you've seen them. The ones that show a photograph representing in part or fully a group of ethnically, racially diversed peoples to describe the diversity of the school. At first response, many of the students thought, "hmmm.... Why did you come to Holliston? It's not really diverse." Yet, I explained that though they may not represent a wide variety of races that they had the ability to portray how they as a diverse set of individuals come together. They were partially convinced but insisted that they get more "diverse students" so it didn't look like so much of the same. I didn't agrue with them, because I could understand their point. If someone comes in doing a project on diversity, it has become a huge part of our culture to figure out how we can "look" more culturally diverse visually. And since this visual aspect representing diversity was what the video was about, I totally understood their need to be represented through variety. Working with these young ladies was really one of the best, I collaborated with them to come up with gestures that represented diversity. Yet there was a point while working with them, when I was able to see how much young students need time to rest and reflect. One of the gestures required them all to lay with their heads together and eyes closed. It was the cutest thing when they asked me " Can we stay here for a minute?" I kindly said "sure" and thought how nice that this exercise could provide both an educational and peaceful activity for them.

One of the next pieces that I completed was This is a desk, this room is my classroom of culture, where I made a chalkboard surface on the wall  with text, a desk, and an image of desk to reference the need for a space to educate students about culture. It takes from using references from the "classroom" as a place where students learn, to generate ideas about how  we learn. I'm always amazed at how much we don't know about culture and different cultures. In this piece, I felt there needed to be a way to create more opportunities for discussion and understanding our differences and what they come from. I feel that the only way that we can be culturally sound is to insure that our students have the best information. Without the proper education students are left to assume and judge based on a lack of information. One of the greatest points made during the interviews was how a diverse educational environement initiates that cultural study, and helps to create this space that is often far more than what is discussed in the classroom. We often underestimate how this helps young students. Yet in addition to creating an diverse educational environment, the curriculm should highlight and further investigate this study so that all students can become more knowledgeable about themselves and others.

When I began this project I felt that it was really thought provoking to accomplish, and much of the work was influenced by the wall piece that I worked on, Words that describe. Words that describe which lists a number of terms that describe diversity and is written in chalk. The use of chalk references the classroom and education(though many schools are using eraser boards now), I felt that it also represented something related to younger people( like crafts and expressions using chalk on the wall or the ground.) I initially set out to use paint over it, but liked the connection of chalk to ideas of school, which as I mentioned earlier inspired the chalkboard piece. I knew that I wanted to do a piece that was somewhat inspired by Marcel Duchamp and his "Chair" piece, but using a school desk instead. So by using the chalkboard it added a new layer to my original idea.

Finally, I wanted to create a process-piece that reflected the students' response to the project and their own thoughts on diversity. So I brought in a bulletin board that I use in my studio to act as a replacement for the usual "journal" that I would place in exhibition space to get feedback. I envisioned using color strips of paper where students could write their thoughts and post to the bulletin board. I was very fortunate that Ms. Bynoe had a wonderful collection of craft papers in amazing colors. So I crafted the color selection to felt reflect the boldness that this piece should represent visually. The differences in color also create a "choice" for students, that they can select the colors(paper and markers) that they indentify with and post them to the board. To me it creates another way for the students to express their individuality, which was very huge to me. I wanted to think past "diversity" in a way that only address racial difference and know that their upbringing, experiences, talents and skills create a diverse environment as well. In the end learning to appreciate that which is unique about them that no one else has. When I think of how many young people have issues with their self-image, I know that it's the ability to look at themselves and celebrate who their are that's most important. I can't count the times that students who came in and hated to see themselves on the wall, yet could appreciate the images of others. I can recall that there was a time when I felt the same way at their age, I'm not sure at what point things changed, but I hope that this work would help them to challenge and identify where the negative thoughts may be coming from, so that a change can be made.

So if your near the Holliston area( or would like to travel there) in the next few weeks please feel free to stop by the space. I'm really happy to have the opportunity to create a space that is both educational and visually stimulating.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Projects!

So now that I've completed the MFA program, it's time to crank out some new work. And what better way to do that but in a creative space that encourages experimentation and exploration? Today marks the beginning of my residency as Visiting Artist at Holliston High School(Holliston,MA).

My proposed project is one based on diversity, so no direct work about colorism this time. Yah!
I'm quite excited about it because I think there is great potential to develop a whole new body of work that's independent from my graduate school experience.

I'm also excited to be working on a slightly different topic than colorism, I feel like I'm a little colorism-ed out! I think because in addition to my studio practice that engaged this subject for the MFA program, my documentary, The Skin Quilt Project is also surrounding the subject, though the relief is that the quilters make the storyline A lot more interesting.

Yet, I'm excited to note that the film is complete and is beginning it's theatrical distribution with community screenings and loads of other fun opportunities. And I hope that more develops from there. So besides continuing to promote the film until the exclusive DVD release, I'm excited at the opportunity to think at some new topics and ways of working.

So I have a lot ahead of me, and I'm going to be photographing a lot more for this project, I feel that will be somewhat like a research study on diversity. A subject I'm really interested in learning more about, and how different needs of diversity changes depending on location and community.

Tomorrow I will actually begin the work, whereas today I've been mapping out the planning with the Art department at Holliston. It's going to be a fun journey, and there even be a small reception once all the work is complete. I look forward to sharing pics of the process.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The new and improved: I'm a Master of Fine Arts!

Last week was my 5th MFA Residency at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, and I have to say I went through a range of emotions. Pure fear, which is so unlike me,  to complete awe. An explanation of that can be obtained by describing the major events that occurred during the 10 day residency.

On the very first day I was scheduled to give an artist talk, which was loosely based on my MFA Thesis, and explained the work that I was making and the artists who influenced this. I rehearsed my talk over and over like a speech and I was so nervous! Though everyone said they couldn't tell. I could lol. But, I did feel very confident in what I was doing as an artist, and though originally I was nervous about potential questions after I finished my talk it turned out that I was ready. It helped that all of the people who asked questions were very thought provoking and pertaining to my work. For example: Have you considered including the references to Egyptian and Ethopian art in your work? Do you see the influence of popular culture having an influence on advertising geared towards African-Americans? and my favorite Do I see the isolation of African-American artists playing a part in my work?  All very good questions about issues that I feel very passionate about. As my classmates stated during our Final Graduate seminar, I got "fired up." I agree.

Then, a couple of days later I was defending my thesis and work, again another scary moment but it was a success. I passed, Thank God! The readers did give me some suggestions to think about in terms of the work that I presented. 

You may be familiar with some of this work,  the brown paper bag installation Essence/February 2009, and I showed this piece along with my magazine pieces. Similiar to how I did in the Intersexions show at Stonehill College. This time, however,  I also included an excerpt of my documentary, The Skin Quilt Project, on view as well. Overall, I received great response from my display and I was really happy with the results. Big Thanks to my husband Solomon for his amazing installation services. He did an amazing job!

I think what I enjoyed most, was the opportunity to critique with other students in the program as a graduating student. I just felt that I had so much more to share than I realized. I came away from each critique feeling that I had provide them with some great advice on how to move forward, specifically in terms of making work that you can defend.

Then lastly it was the exhibition reception to look forward to and I was estatic that my mother coming in town because it's always fun when she's here so that was a great plus. Like many of my classmates we felt that the moment felt somewhat anti-climatic but I think my greatest moment was the Grad Toast. It was a great time and it really helped to celebrate the achievement of getting my MFA. I have to say that I'm so glad this season has come to a close, but honestly it was fun while it lasted!

Lauren Cross' Art Blog was selected as one of the 100 great blogs for art students and enthusiats!

Hello All,

I'm excited to report that my blog was selected by as one of the "100 Great Blogs for Art Students and Enthusiats!" Check it out!

This is great news! Thanks to everyone who has been tuning in!



Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Intersexions show de-installed :(

I know this is alittle after the fact, but I just wanted to show some pics of the Intersexions show I was recently apart of at Stonehill College. The show just de-installed this past weekend, but it was such a great show. There was an amazing turn out, and I was so thrilled to be in the presence of such great artists. They also did a great job on the catalog, which was very professional.

I was also encouraged that my work had such a great response in the show, and I was moved by the number of viewers that could identify with the works. Perhaps not from the context of the work     but the work itself spoke to them in some way.

There was an amazing artist panel on November 20th, where I joined with four other artists in the show( Steve Locke, Caleb Cole, James Montford, and Michele L'Heureux) to talk about our work.

The panel was very energized, and brought forth so many strong questions. There were times where I could literally feel the tension in the room. I think race and identity is unmistakably one of the most difficult things to talk about in such a large setting, because so many people have such different views and feelings about it. Obviously, from one's perspective that has a history of pain due to racism the feelings are much more emotional. I thought it was powerful to get the three perspectives of race from myself, Steve Locke, and James Montford, as we all had different individual experiences that crossed generationally but also gender and geographical origins. I was also taken by Caleb and Michele's talk as well, because the way that they discussed their work truly opens a door into the process and what the artist feels the viewer will see into the work. It was an amazing opportunity to meet all of them, some I've only known about but never met in- person.

The overall response from the exhibit was phenomenal.  It was curated by the Exhibitions and Colletions class at Stonehill College, and I have to admit that they did an exceptional job with putting together the show as did Candice Smith Corby(Gallery Director and Arts Coordinator for Stonehill) and Carole Calo, who were the instructors for the class. The show was very smart and a quite unusual topic for a student-curated show but I was glad that they chose to be somewhat controversial when most tend to stay safe. There were several notable members of the Boston arts community who saw the show and felt strongly that the show should be a traveling exhibition. I personally would love to have the opportunity to show with these artists again, as their work in relation to my own opens up so many questions about the context of race, identity, and gender in our society.