GET FAMILIAR: SANFORD BIGGERS
Chapter 1NE - the group show at Het Hem, curated by Patta founders Edson & Guillaume - is now on view. Here on the Patta blog we will be presenting a few of the participating artists. Previously: Aria Dean
As a quick introduction to our readers, who are you and how would you describe your art?
My name is Sanford Biggers. I am a conceptual artist based in Harlem, NY working in various modes of making that span from film, video, installation, sculpture, drawing, music and performance. I look at my work as a interplay of narrative, perspective and history that speaks to social, political and economic happenings while also examining the contents that bore them.
How did your relationship with art begin?
I actually got into visual art from music. When I was growing up in LA, I took classical piano lessons for around 2 years before realizing I had zero desire to actually play classical. After convincing my parents to take me out of lessons, I began listening to my older brothers garage band and trying to play what they were. I would also set at the piano for hours and try to play whatever I heard on the radio and through that, basically taught myself how to play by ear. At around 12 or 13, I started listening to jazz but couldn’t keep up with what I was hearing so I started to draw and paint portraits of the artists I was listening to. I would take this paintings of Monk, Herbie, Miles, Ella etc to my art classes as homework and was surprised at the conversations they inspired. I think this is when I began to realize the power of communication and dissemination of ideas that was possible through art.
How would you place your art in our current social/ political landscape?
Topical and charged work is ever present throughout art history, but the public discourse is sometimes more attentive to what artists are saying and at other times, there is no interest in "issues" at all. The current US identity is in flux and art is one of the few forms of communication that allow for alternative, challenging and nuanced message to be transmitted. I see my work as part of this larger social and cultural discourse but also part of the long history of object and image making
What do you feel an artist needs to add on a cultural level?
Visual art has the unique ability to use sophisticated visual, conceptual, historical, even social devices that I believe more adequately address the complexities and nuances of past and current times or turbulence. While most forms of mass media seek to simplify and reduce topical issues into binaries that are easier to digest, defend or oppose, artists can use their platform as an act of creative commentary which I believe is one of the most poignant and potentially disruptive roles of art.
What messages are you trying to convey to your audience through your art?
Though I consciously use multiple forms of media, my agenda is consistent and that is to invite the viewer read between the lines and see beneath the surface of what is physically in front of them. There are myriad conceptual, historical, material and process based narratives in each work. I want viewers to slow down and consider these elements and share their thoughts with others.
How do you intend for viewers to interact with your work?
Thoughtfully and with an open mind.
How do you relate to the motto of the exhibition “Can’t be greedy.. You gotta take some, and leave some?”
For me, this is a reflection of subjectivity. It's important for an artist to have a message and deliver it, yet it doesn't always translate the same for every receiver. We all vary in visual and cultural literacy based off our own experiences and not one interpretation is correct. It is not always the author who dictates what is being heard and how it is to be understood. An artist has to let the ego go. It also speaks to the generosity inherent in sharing one’s creative process with others.
What was the inspiration for your piece, included in the show at Het Hem?
Since 2012, the world has witnessed the killing of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and literally countless other unarmed black citizens at the hands of the police, who frequently walk away with no punishment at all. I created this body of work titled " BAM" as a way to point at these recent transgressions and elevate the stories of specific individuals in order to combat historical amnesia.
BAM (For Jordan) commemorates Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old Texan from Dallas who died in 2017 from shots fired by a police officer. Jordan was leaving a party together with his brother when an officer shot him in the back of the head while riding in the front passenger's seat of a vehicle driving away from officers that attempted to stop it. In response to ongoing occurrences of police brutality against Black Americans, this series is composed of bronze sculptures recast from fragments of wooden African statues that have been anonymized through dipping in wax and then ballistically ‘resculpted’. I then cast the re-sculpted figures in bronze––a historically noble and weighty medium. This process bestows honor and gravitas to the damaged figure, allowing it to become a “power object” that along with the memory of each victim, is worthy of veneration and a stark reminder of the work that needs to be done to fight injustice. BAM (For Jordan) is installed in the shooting range of Het HEM’s former munitions factory, whereby the local context echoes through the artwork and its topical content.
BAM (for Jordan), 2017
Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery.
What advice would you give to young artists who would like to get their work in galleries?Persevere and don’t compromise your craft or vision.
Could you share the names of some artists whose work you are enjoying at the moment?Caitlin Cherry, Ektor Garcia, Sigmar Polke, Esteban Cabeza de Baca, Allison Jane Hamilton, Terence Nance and Olifur Eliason to name a few