Faheem Majeed is an artist, curator, teacher, and arts administrator. He likes to ask questions, challenge expectations, and mine sensitive subjects—whether he’s behind the desk serving as executive director of a “small black arts non-profit,” or in the studio welding a sculpture. By blending personal narrative with research-based facts, he metabolizes his influences and inspiration and makes them his own. He outlines some of his personal and professional history below, and illustrates how each informs his art work, which he leverages to catalyze conversation, activism, and community building.
There are a number of aspects of my personal history that shape who I am as a person and artist. My parents were both members of the Nation of Islam. Shortly after my birth they both denounced their affiliations and moved to Charlotte, NC. My father grew into a respected politician and businessman. I grew up in city where every other yard had a “Majeed Cares” campaign sign in it.
After an amicable divorce, I spent my teenage years with my mother in Minneapolis, MN. She was a respected social worker and executive director of a chemical abuse agency. She believed that no matter how dysfunctional they were, everyone needs a family.
This confluence of experiences and influences is the foundation of my work and really shaped my thoughts on the possibilities of the impact of my work. As I developed as an artist in Chicago, I combined that perspective with what I was learning about the black arts movement and groups like AfriCobra, Blacks Arts Guild, Chicago Imagist, Spiral, etc.
When I first came to Chicago in 2003, I didn’t know many people. Artists from the historic South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) welcomed me into their space where I spent the next year absorbing and falling in love with its amazing history, constituency, and constant struggles. Rummaging through the SSCAC’s basement was more of an experiential education than I could obtain from the coursework and reading during my undergraduate studies at Howard University. The smell of aging paper, the accumulation of forgotten or abandoned art, uncovering posters and flyers from the ’40s and ’50s, and reading through the correspondence from past directors felt like coming home. Those objects spoke to me and each had its own story. The curator in me sees the ability to put these objects together in a way that is different from their originally intended purpose. I try to refocus the lens and tell a story that was not obvious or perhaps lacked a voice. I synthesize these objects into my work by discussing and sharing them with others and engaging and appropriating from the ones who created them.
I was eventually asked to fill the position of executive director of the SSCAC. As I became more involved, my studio practice suffered. I was torn between two passions. I felt that I was at a crossroads and had to make a decision, so like any sane person that is faced with a difficult life decision, I decided to go to grad school.
If you are even remotely interested in how everyday materials can become bizarre and (sometimes) brilliant sculpture, there are three shows ready and waiting for you in New York’s Chelsea galleries: Nayland Blake’s What Wont Wreng at Matthew Marks; B. Wurtz’s Recent Works at Metro Pictures; and Mark Dion’s two-floor delight titled Drawings, Prints, Multiples and Sculptures at Tanya Bonakdar. In all three cases, viewers (especially contemporary art educators) are treated to new works by artists who are playful with their materials and simultaneously manage to teach us about the issues and concerns that drive their work.
Nayland Blake’s exhibit greets viewers with a vinyl poster of himself—donning a leather cap and harness, black sunglasses, and his signature beard—presented under the name of “The Spectre.” The handful of sculptures and installations on view actually have enough space in the tiny gallery for viewers to examine how Blake incorporates themes of gender, identity, and community in his work as “a modern-day flaneur.” And like any good sculptor, his work invites you to look into vs. at it. I found myself walking around and around works such as Buddy, Buddy, Buddy and Oh, both standouts because of simple layering that allows for a constant mind-game of associations. Continue reading »
It’s been something of a French spring in Los Angeles, as the Ceci N’est Pas… initiative, organized by the French Embassy, has brought numerous Gallic artists and curators to town for residencies, group exhibitions, and other fun projects. Some of the projects have had intensely LA-centric themes, such as the high-profile group exhibition LOST (in LA), which used the television show “Lost” as a loose framework within which to explore creative linkages between LA and France. Such projects have presented intriguing opportunities to look at our city’s histories, cultures, and mythologies through the refracting lens of a foreigner’s gaze.
Perhaps the most endearing and welcome of these LA-focused exhibitions was LA Existancial, an examination of the legacy of influential French-born artist Guy de Cointet, who lived in LA from 1968 until his death in 1983. A local cult favorite for many years, de Cointet has only recently received wider recognition from the art world at large. Along with contemporaries like Al Ruppersberg and William Leavitt, he played a significant role in the development of California Conceptual art. Interestingly, his status as a foreigner who came here without a firm grasp of the English language played a crucial role in his practice; he came to see language not so much as a tool for conveying meaning as an archive of aesthetic objects to be examined and manipulated. His two-dimensional works made heavy use of abstract arrangements of text, influenced by Surrealist and Dada art, semiotic theory, and WWII-era encoding methods. He was also fond of staging theatrical productions, utilizing the conventions of theater to deconstruct the clichés of visual and verbal communication.
Last week, I climbed to the top of Queens county’s tallest clock tower. It was a hard ascent up the rusty metal ladders of the 14-story building—I fear heights—but I was determined not to let that stop me from seeing Chris Jordan’s installation Locost Queue.
Part of No Longer Empty’s site-specific exhibition “How Much Do I Owe You?”, the installation, the artist writes, “projects silhouettes of people photographed in Queens, in a queue, moving across the four faces of the clock tower. The rate of movement correlates to the population growth for the city of New York. A light flashes in the tower at the approximate rate of species extinction on the planet.” The view of Locost Queue from outside was great in itself, but the inside was even more inspiring. A single 1800 watt bulb casts the silhouettes and a motorized hula hoop makes the whole thing go round.
Jordan was a great host—and he happens to have great taste in music. As I walked around the room, a heard a recording of Aaron “Taylor” Kuffner’s Gamelatron playing from Jordan’s laptop. It reminded me that I would have hated hearing this a year ago, back when I was working on my master’s thesis in New York University’s ITP program, completely immersed in my own interpretation of the Javanese Gamelan, and tired of hearing about Taylor’s work.
A lot has changed in the year since I graduated. I would never have guessed that I’d become a regular guest critic at my alma mater, listening to students present and defend their thesis projects. Although the process is less stressful sitting on the other side, I still find myself anxious. It’s hard not to see connections between what current students are creating and what other people, including my own peers, have already created. I often feel compelled to say, “Have you seen so-and-so’s work?” But I don’t think that sort of comment is helpful for students whose projects have already reached the finish line. They may feel defeated when hearing that, despite their attempts to create something novel, I see it as something that has been done before.
I’ve become more sensitive to this since reading The Helsinki Bus Station Theory, a credo for creativity that I first heard about at a gallery opening last week, and later through Hyperallergic. The theory comes from a 2004 graduation speech by the Helsinki-born, U.S.-based photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen, who used Helsinki’s bus routes as a metaphor for pursuing a fulfilling career in the creative arts. His words hit close to home when he describes following a creative direction only to find disappointment when someone says it’s similar to the work of another. One’s first intuition, he says, is to get off the metaphorical bus, find a new route, and start again.
“You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that illicit the same comment: ‘Haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach?’ Or, if they are steamy black and white 8 x 10 camera views of palm trees swaying off a beachfront: ‘Haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann?’ So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all of your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.”
Minkkinen does offer hope: buses may go down the same roads but their paths diverge. Some go one way; some go another. And the persistent riders often find that if they stay on their bus, not only do they reach a destination farther than expected, but they can look back on an entire route. By now, Minkkinen has built such a successful career that his early photographs, brushed off by some as being “student work,” are now recognized for their unique vision. And so his advice to future artists? “Stay on the f**king bus.”
If you haven’t checked out New York Close Up lately, you really should.
Two recent films, Liz Magic Laser Talks To The Hand and David Brooks Is In His Element, are just two more examples of how the series can make strong interdisciplinary connections. Both offer viewers the chance to see contemporary artists as researchers, analyzing information learned in order to inform their work. Liz Magic Laser examines hand gestures in contemporary presidential State of the Union addresses as she builds a multi-sensory performance piece. David Brooks, on the other hand, uses his experience as a volunteer with conservation biologists in the Amazon basin region of South America to allow for more opportunities to be “in the field” (literally) and for hands on experience with the wildly diverse ecosystems of the this region—to “witness evolution itself.”
Early in Liz Magic Laser’s piece, just shortly after you find yourself hypnotized by the rhythmic clicking of the camera shutter, the artist describes thinking about “the choreography that is being used to persuade the public.” This intense interest in and examination of gesture, particularly through presidential addresses, becomes a driving force in the collaboration with two Merce Cunningham-trained dancers for her work The Digital Face. Viewers find themselves winding through a systematic and complex investigation into the kinds of things gesture can communicate, which certainly has implications for how students create arguments, art works and even public presentations.
The most recent David Brooks film is likewise a layered glimpse into the “front end” of his art. For Brooks, his work with conservation biologists utilizing a consistent multi-disciplinary approach serves as a model for his own artistic practice. An intriguing part of the film involves the fact that you don’t see one of the sculptures influenced by his volunteer work until the very end, and even then you are left wondering a bit more about what it looks like and what it would be like to walk among the fishes.
Teaching with Liz Magic Laser and David Brooks can include a comparison of how each artist approaches their research differently and how they interact with their collaborators in distinct ways. It can also include a frank discussion about the possibilities when it comes to how contemporary artists approach the creative process.
There are many ways to remember any given year: defining political or global events, sports championships or perhaps even where you were dating or where you were living at the time. The New Museum’s current exhibition NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star looks back to the art scene twenty years ago, presenting a time capsule of sorts of works made (or exhibited) in New York in 1993. The exhibition’s somewhat unwieldy title is taken from the album of the New York rock band Sonic Youth, which was recorded in 1993.
Personally, I usually look back at the recent past through the lens of film. It certainly doesn’t feel like twenty years have passed since Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s still-timely deconstruction of the genre of the Western, won Best Picture at the Oscars. Then again, looking at other Oscar winners from that year makes it seem quite distant: Marissa Tomei won for her supporting role in My Cousin Vinny, and in 1993 “Whoo-ah, Whoo-ah” was ushered into the popular cultural lexicon with Al Pacino’s winning lead performance in Scent of a Woman, unbelievably still his only Oscar win. Conjuring a very particular moment from the historical past can produce either a telescoping or a distancing effect, and while the New Museum’s time capsule exhibition includes some art that seem decidedly dated twenty years on, other works seem as relevant now in 2013 as they did in 1993.
NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star opens strong with a video by Alex Bag, who was student at Cooper Union in New York at the time. In her video Untitled (Spring 94) Bag performs for the camera in a work that seemingly anticipates more recent trends, including YouTube confessionals and Ryan Trecartin videos. Donning different wigs and wittily invoking a broad range of pop culture references, Bag takes aim at the banal forms of mass media, simultaneously revealing and mocking the thick layers of clichéd artifice that define the private universe of this girl performing before the video camera, and by extension the collective psyche of the MTV Generation. In the course of Bag’s thirty-minute video, the girl earnestly sings Salt-n-Pepa’s “Shoop,” talks about movies and rock stars with typical teenage delirium, and animatedly discusses everything from McDonald’s to Columbia House’s mail order CD club (remember that?) and other signs of mass commercialism. As she channels a pastiche of identity-defining fads, Bag offers a witty and captivating parody of angst-filled teenage hysteria, self-absorption, and shortening attention spans in a manner that uncannily anticipates the Internet age to come.
One last reminder: There are less than two weeks left to apply for year five of Art21 Educators. Join us for this yearlong professional development experience that begins with a unique and inspiring week in New York City this summer, followed by collaborative work and support from Art21 and new colleagues throughout the 2013-2014 school year.
If you are a K-12 teacher interested in learning more about contemporary art and teaching with contemporary art in your classroom, Art21 Educators is for you. You will have the opportunity to explore ways to enhance your curriculum, visit and talk with Art21 artists, see some beautiful exhibitions, and enjoy a variety of Art21 films…and that’s just our first week together.
To get your application rolling, simply click here. We look forward to meeting you this summer!
Transmission | An Interview with Seth Kim-Cohen: “I move to the left, and back to my right, step behind the amplifier, and I disappear into the darkness”
On January 27, 2013 Seth Kim-Cohen gave a new performance titled The bee in bathos equals the pee in pathos (except at the bathhouse) at The Postscript Symposium, a two-day showcase of performances and presentations featuring local, national, and international artists in the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver exhibition Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art. Co-curated by Nora Burnett Abrams and Andrea Andersson, the exhibition presented works from the 1960s to the present—including painting, sculpture, installation, video, and works on paper—that raise questions about how we read, look at, hear, and process language today.
Kim-Cohen is a full-time visiting artist at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Many of his projects initiate a listening about and around rock music as a cultural signifier. As a theorist he has published In The Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art (Continuum, 2009), and One Reason To Live: Conversations About Music (Errant Bodies, 2006). His work has been presented at venues on three continents, including: Audio Visual Arts, Issue Project Room, Diapason Gallery, and PS122 in New York; Tate Modern, the ICA, Whitechapel Gallery, and Peer Gallery in London; the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany; Kino Siska in Ljubljana, Slovenia; and the Singapore Biennial. From 1990 to 2002, he wrote, recorded and performed in a series of increasingly experimental rock bands, including Number One Cup and The Fire Show, with whom he released seven albums and numerous shorter recordings; played throughout the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Europe; and recorded two Peel Sessions.
Following is an interview with Kim-Cohen focused on The bee in bathos equals the pee in pathos (except at the bathhouse).
Amelia Ishmael: What happened during The bee in bathos equals the pee in pathos (except at the bathhouse)?
Seth Kim-Cohen: The bee in bathos equals the pee in pathos (except at the bathhouse) maps the narration style of Dan Graham’s Performer/Audience/Mirror to video documentation of the final song of the final performance of the Sex Pistols’ career. I wouldn’t argue with anyone claiming that this is an arbitrary confabulation. But perhaps it mitigates such a claim if I point out that these two legendary performances both took place in San Francisco only three years apart—Graham in 1975, the Pistols in 1978. Then again, arbitrary confabulations are my stock in trade.
“You could hide beneath the stars, shoot at passing cars, like real cowboys do,” sang artist Llyn Foulkes at documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, last June, dragging out the syllables of that last phrase for dramatic effect. He was performing there on his Machine—a red, black, and gold contraption that’s half drum set, half horn section. The Machine surrounds him when he performs; he hits the bass drum with his foot, hits the symbols and xylophone with his sticks, then occasionally squeezes or blows on the collection of brass and rubber noisemakers whose bells face the audience. At documenta, he sang about wanting to be a cowboy while living in Los Angeles, longing to be on the silver screen and wondering “what it all means.” Two nights ago at the Hammer Museum, he again performed with his Machine, this time singing about, among other things, how George W. Bush pulled a trigger to become a big star.
Foulkes’s Hammer performance happened in conjunction with the retrospective of his paintings at the museum right now, an expansive affair that covers fifty years of his art making, from his early pared down Jasper Johns-like assemblage to his later portraits of impaled presidents; tableaux of Superman as a company man; and images of Mickey Mouse as a little devil, all of which make Americana sinister. The world he approximates in his art is equal parts media-infused, pop-influenced, and dogmatically emotional—like it was made by someone’s cantankerous uncle who knows lines from movies by heart, can draw Mickey Mouse with his eyes closed, and deeply resents almost all powers that be. The retrospective highlights Foulkes cantankerous iconoclasm while pitching him as integral to L.A.’s art historical cannon, which is why it’s difficult to talk about. Does Foulkes stick out or belong?
Foulkes should be pronounced “fawlks,” but it’s often mispronounced to sound like “folks.” This slip-up has been made especially in the three weeks since the Hammer show opened, and it feels like an accidental reveal, one that draws attention to the way that Foulkes diverges from the California minimalists and cool conceptualists he came of age with.
This weekend I will be back with friends and colleagues at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) to facilitate a teacher workshop about working with Art21 education materials and teaching with El Anatsui’s gorgeous exhibition, When I Last Wrote To You About Africa. This being Art21’s second visit to UMMA, I am looking forward to once again working with Pam Reister, Jann Wesolek, and all of the participants joining us this weekend.
El Anastui, one of my favorite artists from Season 6, is in some ways an educator’s dream. His sculptures and installations reference history, culture and memory while simultaneously exploring the possibilities of found materials and different processes for making art. And while Anatsui is best known for his stunning, draped metal sculptures, there is more to the work with than meets the eye… and that’s quite a bit to begin with.
For example, if we step back four decades ago to Anatsui’s initial work in Ghana, the artist began using materials from his immediate surroundings—carving into wooden trays much like those sold in markets to display fruit and vegetables—and then creating works with adinkra-like symbols prominently featured. As Olu Oguibe describes in the magnificent catalogue that accompanies the show, Anastui has been guided by the following principles since this early work:
- Pay close attention to location and environment
- Learn whatever you can from local practitioners
- Use found objects and materials from your surroundings, especially your immediate surroundings
- Let the medium and materials suggest, even dictate, the form
- Acknowledge the potential for art to serve as a metaphor or visual allegory
Anatsui’s ceramic sculpture from 1978, Omen, explores how brokenness can somehow inspire new life and healing. From the small burst of an opening to the coating of manganese that speckles the surface formed from damaged ceramic pieces, Anatsui’s work can represent ideas about fragility and even political instability in Africa.