I think this is real... / by Naima Lowe

I wrote this today as a statement of artists intentions for a job that I'm applying for. It is longish (perhaps too long for a job application), and I'm not sure that it is what I'm suppose to do. But I think I really really mean it. So here it is. -----------------

Naima Lowe

Statement of Artists Intentions and Recent Work

Statement of Artists Intentions

I have a really good work ethic. For some, a good work ethic means waking up every day and getting straight to the drawing board. For others, it means feverishly toiling in front of a screen or on set at all hours of the night. My work ethic comes from a deep desire to treat everyone who takes part in my art work; collaborators, audience and myself; with deepest respect and care.

I live in a world that feeds on fears of scarcity, pushes allies into competition, and is fueled by consumption rather than creation. As the daughter and granddaughter and great-granddaughter and great-great-granddaughter of jazz musicians, teachers, social workers, dress makers and field hands, I have the profound privilege of being reminded daily that I am nothing without my collaborators in the creation of joy and abstraction in the every day. In my work I push back against scarcity by being devilishly baroque, undermine competition by teaming with those who challenge me most, and treat all of my work (even the consumable parts) as lived aesthetic experiences in which process is barely distinct from product.

Recent and Ongoing Works

My work usually revolves around the strange complexity of identity formation, especially the way that we are both utterly fixed by our bodies and completely free to make it all up as we go along. My 2007 film Birthmarks explored the physical and psychic scars of violence through the ever morphing relationship between a father and daughter. In addition to collecting archival material and creating original writing and installation works to be filmed, I made a series of intentional spaces in which my father and I could challenge ourselves to look closely at the series of dark scars on his back that he received by being beat up by the Newark Police in 1967. The collaboration with my father largely revolved around a jazz improvisational model during which we agreed to a key and tempo (Newark, the riots, 1967), felt confident in each others’ knowledge of our instruments (him-Bass Trombone and storytelling, me-16mm camera and poetics), and then challenged each other to play our best. There were moments in the two year process of creating this film when I wanted to scream at my father for being inconsistent, or untrue to myself by pretending not to feel the pain brought about by the work, but I chose to remain present and accountable to my work ethic. I choose to remain true to my aesthetic vision while being kind to myself and my father. The experience was as unwaveringly honest, complex and affirming as I believe the film turned out to be. .

My more recent work has me delving more fully into the relationship between identity and historicity. In addition to research on the film work of Kara Walker and her status as a black post-modernist within the institutional fine art world, I have considered my own power as an artist to shape and mold the images of fictional and real subjects. In my work Mary and Sarah and You and Me: A Series of Tiny Spectacles, I have created a densely theatrical and spectacle driven world based on the lives of real life 19th century women. Stagecoach Mary Fields was a black cowgirl, and Mother Sarah Amadeus Dunne was the white nun whose story is entwined with Mary’s in the small white Montana town in which they lived. In creating this work I sought the help of a friend (Emmy Bean) and fellow alumna of a musical theater camp, whose life as a queer, white radical Christian echoed mine as a queer, black, artist brought up in mostly white central Connecticut. I knew that in order for us to go about writing, rehearsing, making music and videos, and researching 19th century pioneer life, we would have to deal confront ourselves pretty head on. Our joint work ethic included intensive weeklong sessions that were always punctuated with trips to the beach, time to see our families, and space to breathe and cry as needed. We warmed up by singing show tunes, and always made sure to have good food available for ourselves and anyone working around us. The resulting work is a layered experience for spectator and artist alike that includes storytelling, video installation, song, over-head projected photographs, and puppetry. We utilize some aspects of a stripped bare gallery aesthetic in order to situate our audience in a familiar mode of art consumption that gives the audience space to consider their own place and implication in the work. We also tell rich, detailed, visually dynamic stories about forbidden love, racial injustice, and religious fervor. These tales shift and evolve before the audiences’ eyes as we interrogate the integrity of our own project, and ask ourselves why we feel that these women’s lives are ours to reshape.

The mundane aspects of my creative practice may seem too vulgar to state as an part of my artistic intentions, but I have found it useful to remind myself and anyone I collaborate with of them. Too often I find that experimental filmmakers, video artists and performance artists, like myself, have given themselves over to solitary, auteur, obsessive, and self involved practices that ignore the pleasure and collectivity that comes along with our transgressions. I work very very hard, and I care a great deal about craft, make no mistake. But I have chosen this artists life for myself, and I intend on enjoying it.