20 Jan Reflecting Voices: Artists Statements
LJ and his Fort © Rashod Taylor
The Golden Age
My practice is focused on researching historical and contemporary narratives of representation, heritage, identity, stereotypes and the erasure or manipulation of history through portraiture and vanitas still life subjects. I make photographs that reference the long history of racial inequality, while contemporary in the desire to move into the future with honor and grace.
Weary from experiencing how people of color are treated, I feel called to create images of people who look like me presented with reverence and dignity. I began working on The Golden Age during the spring of 2017, during which time I came to recognize ways I’ve allowed negative projections of others to hold me back artistically. I would spend time in museums admiring the lighting in European Renaissance paintings, while feeling how far the whole experience was from my own reality. I understood how uncomfortable I was in art spaces, that in so many unspoken ways I didn’t belong.
It became important to create work as a tribute to Black culture while addressing how we’ve been omitted from art history. The Harlem Renaissance was our Age of Enlightenment, and I wanted my work to reflect the connections between the two periods. The Dutch Renaissance arose in Haarlem, Netherlands from the Eighty Years’ War with Spain, as the Harlem Renaissance was birthed from the remnants of the Civil War and Great Migration north. To pay homage to the Harlem Renaissance while recognizing 17th century Dutch portraiture, I named the portraits as saints, with a street name or notable Harlem landmark as a way to commemorate the significance of this time (e.g. Saint Sugar Hill, Saint Madison, Saint Monroe).
I have continued my research into areas of identity and representation with newer projects such as Crossroads (2018-2019), challenging people of color to reject a system that continues to oppress us and look collectively for new expressions that are inclusive and powerful. How to Make a Country (2019) and Take a Look Inside (2019) are reminders of our past and who we are within the context of history. These works require the viewer to understand the contributions and sacrifice of Black women, a reminder we are more dynamic, powerful, loyal, and worthy than recognized and acknowledged.
During the time of this pandemic, I continue to create symbolic works reflecting current issues in historical contexts such as the vanitas triptych White Privilege (2020). I am conducting research for an upcoming project I plan to begin later this year. In early 2020, I had an opportunity to travel to North Carolina where my ancestors lived and worked for generations as enslaved people. The landowner left his land to the children he fathered with enslaved women, now home to my aunts and cousins. I feel called upon to spend time on this land, to piece together the history for my family, and to understand how we became and continue to be an integral part of the United States of America.
Black in Denver
Black in Denver is a visual ethnography that takes a critical look at identity. The portraits are of unique individuals, both locals and transplants. The background colors are as vibrant and varied as the community here. Colors repeat and connect, representing unity and interdependence.
Series participants offer poignant, poetic, and revealing accounts of life in Denver, ranging from the importance of community building to taking up space in an ever-evolving city. As a whole, this series shows that Denver’s Black community fosters a culture of authenticity.
Black in Denver supports and demonstrates the notion that blackness, and identity in general, is not a monolith. In a society where Black people are often stereotyped and seen as homogenous, the artist hopes to change the narrative, raise awareness about the power of being one’s self, and inspire the practice of self inquiry.
Little Black Boy
My work addresses themes of race, culture, family, and Legacy and these images are a kind of family album, filled with friends and family, birthdays, vacations, and everyday life. At the same time, these images tell you more than my family story; they’re a window onto the Black American experience. As I document my son I am interested in examining his childhood and the world he navigates. At the same time these images show my own unspoken anxiety and fragility as it pertains to the wellbeing of my son and fatherhood. At times I worry if he will be ok as he goes to school or as he plays outside with friends as children do. These feelings are enhanced due to the realities of growing up black in America. He can’t live a carefree childhood as he deserves; there is a weight that comes with his blackness, a weight that he is not ready to bear. It’s my job to bear this weight as I am accustomed to the sorrows and responsibility it brings, the weight of injustice, prejudices, and racism that has been interwoven in our society and institutional systems for hundreds of years. I help him through this journey of childhood as I hope one day this weight will be lifted.