By Erika Hirugami, MAAB | Founder & CEO at CuratorLove
I visited the California African American Museum of Art for the conversation between Mark Bradford and Naima J. Keith. Mark Bradford, and abstract painter and currently the United States representative for the upcoming Venice Biennale and Naima Keith CAAM’s New Deputy Director, engaged in a conversation about Bradford’s career for the most part, but they also spoke about race politics, community engagement, contemporary art and Jheri Curls (seems Bradford sported them in the earlier stages of his life).
Bradford expanded on his practice as being abstract in nature; abstraction is my way to interrogate ideas in the intimacy of my own studio, he mentioned. He explained that the art world is a safe space for unsafe ideas, whereas the world is just an unsafe space. He joked about the early stages of his artistic path and mentioned the struggles he underwent decades ago. He was very real, approachable, kind, funny, not at all what I expected to encounter.
It seems to me that this intimate conversation between friends (Keith and Bradford have been friends for over fifteen years) which I witnessed marks a beginning, a new era for CAAM possibly. As a Jaxican (Japanese / Mexican) female, I often interrogate the nature of my own race, the hybridity of my being per se. As a person of color (multiple shades at that) my intersectionality navigates and become fluid in various spaces, conceptual and real. In a crowd of Mexicans, I am a Pocha. In a crowd of Caucasians, I am brown. In a black crowd I did not really feel like I fit-in before (but I must confess that most of the times I have been in all black crowds I found myself in the South). As Bradford himself mentioned during this conversation, “race enters the room before you do… I usually take a minute to process it, I don’t know that I am black, until I see certain responses in others toward me.” This conversation made me internalize my own query in the same regard, I don’t think of myself as brown in a room full of brown people but that changes when I’m surrounded by any other race, this is true.
But let’s discuss art now, my professional art focus is Latin American (predominantly Mexican and Chicano) and I am well versed in European, Asian, Contemporary, and even African Art, but not African American. Thus in previous occasions I felt a disconnect between me and the art shown at CAAM. Growing up in another country also means that while you all learned about issues such as slavery I was dealing with the Mexican-American loss of territory. So there is a clear gap between my comfort level around art and the works shown at CAAM, but no more!
The exhibitions currently at CAAM, their new programing strategies and the countless number of people I came across the other night activated CAAM for me in a whole new light. I felt inspired by Mark and Naima, I felt like I could come up to them and have a real art conversation, instead of feeling them far removed, now I think they are approachable, friendly and oh so brilliant.
The Ease of Fiction opened a new window for me to explore work of artist born in Nigeria, Rwanda, Botswana and it also made me fall in love with Sherin Guirguis (b. Egypt) whose work was new to me, all while exploring the concept of memory and play. Whereas Genevieve Gaignard: Smell the Roses was a child-like exploration into concepts of femininity but also of constructed memories which to me were far removed. Colliding both black and white cultures into these rooms filled with endless kitsch wonders, made me feel extremely foreign. Whereas, her self-portraits simultaneously brought me in.
The anxiety of feeling foreign in a place that is so familiar was exactly how I felt every other time I had visited CAAM in the past. But not today, on this occasion CAAM welcomed me. It showed me sensations unknown and made me feel a wondrous serenity, I was able to speak to a few of the artist being exhibited and even took a selfie with Mark Bradford.
I made lots of new friends and ended up dancing at CAAM after a very pleasant interaction with another individual who felt just as inspired that night as I did. At the end of the night me and him discussed our mutual desire to further the art careers of our people, but instead of it being Latino or African American exclusively, our people became people of color in general.
Finally, after all my previous visits to CAAM, I can honestly say I look forward coming back; it might be the new administration, it might be the programing, it might be the amazing art I came across. But I am now eager to become a part of the CAAM community in as much as I am a part of MOLAA or MOCA. Now I know that CAAM is a place for me. A place for me to come and question the commonality and larger issues of my own community; issues that while not often directly affecting my intersectionality still affect me, my friends, my family, my community, my and city.