ARTISTS REACH OUT: REFLECTIONS IN A TIME OF ISOLATION
Senior Curatorial Director Eva Yaa Asantewaa dreamed this series of interviews, Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation, out of grief for her work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance.
“In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.
But there’s no distancing around what we still can share with one another—our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.
So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I’m glad they’re part of our beautiful community, and I’m eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.” – Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Senior Curatorial Director
This interview features Pamela Sneed, poet, writer, performer, visual artist, and Gibney Living Gallery artist.
Pamela Sneed is a New York-based poet, writer, performer and visual artist, author of Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom than Slavery, KONG and Other Works, Sweet Dreams and two chaplets, Gift by Belladonna and Black Panther. She has been featured in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Art Forum, Hyperallergic and on the cover of New York Magazine. She is online faculty in SAIC’s low-res MFA teaching Human Rights and Writing Art and has also been a Visiting Artist at SAIC in the program for four consecutive years. She has performed at the Whitney Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Poetry Project , MCA, The High Line, New Museum and Toronto Biennale. She delivered the closing keynote for Artist, Designers, Citizens Conference/a North American component of the Venice Biennale at SAIC. She appears in Nikki Giovanni’s, The 100 Best African American Poems. In 2018, she was nominated for two PushCart Prizes in poetry. She will publish a poetry and prose manuscript, Funeral Diva, with City Lights in Fall 2020.
Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?
I am working on my first musical performance which is a tribute to Big Mama Thornton. I received a commission from Denniston Hill through the Exodus Project in collaboration with Triangle Arts, Dumbo. I was doing vocal training and everything. The show was supposed to premiere this month on April 27. Because of the pandemic, it has been pushed to early November when Triangle reopens.
Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.
It’s hard for me to think back to how I became an artist as I feel now that it’s part of my DNA. I attended the New School /Lang College in the late 1980’s. Their campus was really the West and East Village. I trained as a writer there and got involved in poetry and performance through the East Village scene at the time.
In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?
At present I am writing, performing, teaching and making visual art. I have a book coming out in the fall Oct 2020 with City Lights. It’s titled Funeral Diva, and it’s about coming of age during the AIDS era in New York and the impact on POC and LGBTQI communities. I am trying to document an important community and legacy. It’s poetry and prose. I hope to create more literature/more visual art and have more opportunities to perform on larger stages and share my political vision which is about revolution/at least that’s what my students tell me/I’m interested in social justice through the arts and interdisciplinary modes of working and thinking.
How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?
I believe many things–one, that my artistic practice is also a spiritual practice, one that keeps me whole and sane and working toward not just my own good but society’s good as well. I also believe teaching is a spiritual practice and my job is to empower people to speak and express their truths through the arts. I also try to engage my students politically believing deeply the personal is political. All of my work reflects that. I also believe during this pandemic artists are on the frontlines and are also essential workers teaching people how to survive, transform and endure. My practices always reflect this. Funeral Diva is a personal and political book. My Big Mama Thornton performance project is to pay tribute to a Black woman who is known to have been a lesbian, possibly trans and was foundational to Rock and Roll.
How does your practice function within the world we have now?
I described in a talk that I did recently for an art school in Vienna that I consider myself to be both a pioneer in terms of poetry and interdisciplinary forms and topics such as Black lesbian working class experience but, in duality, I also see myself as a late bloomer. I’ve started painting in the last five years, and this is my first year singing professionally. I am ever growing and believe I am just hurting my stride as an artist.
All of my work has been described as important in the world’s landscape. I read to some students yesterday and they said my work inspired them to change and fight for social justice. I think that’s where you can locate me in the landscape.
To read all of Eva Yaa Asantewaa’s Artists Reach Out interviews, visit infinitebody.blogspot.com.
Photo courtesy of the artist.